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Easy to Bee Passionate

Beekeepers know it takes a healthy Earth to build a healthy hive

Lyle Wallace created the Goshen Farm Apiary as his Eagle Scout project. The ­apiary on the Broadneck Peninsula has four hives as well as informational displays, all built by Boy Scout Troop 2214 under Wallace’s direction.

Spending your free time with thousands of stinging insects may seem odd. But love is a funny thing, and passion arises unbidden from unlikely sources.
    Across Bay Country, devotees of the humble honeybee lovingly tend their hives and work to help them thrive. At the same time, beekeepers are caught up in an impassioned fight to protect bees.
    Around the world, bees are dying in record numbers. Multiple factors are at work, but two of the leading causes — habitat loss and pesticides — are directly related to human activities.
    Environmental educator Jessica Seabright is dedicated to teaching her young charges about bees. “A lot of people have misconceptions,” she says. “We want kids to know how important bees are for pollinating our fruits and vegetables.”

At Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center, “Kids have close encounters with bees and learn about what purpose bees have other than to pester us,” says environmental educator Jessica Seabright.

    On the wooded campus of Arlington Echo, the outdoor education center of the Anne Arundel County Public School System, Seabright tends six hives, three indoors. “The kids have close encounters with bees and learn about what purpose bees have other than to pester us. They can see what bees look like up close,” she says.
    The kids love the bee lessons at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center. “It’s the only lesson that competes with canoeing for the kids’ favorite,” says Seabright’s colleague Ted Hall.
    These popular creatures are, like most of us, immigrants, probably brought by English settlers in the early 1600s. Here they found work, and we’ve come to depend on them to pollinate dozens of our favorite crops, from apples, blueberries, strawberries, carrots and broccoli to almonds and coffee. We depend on them, and in the world we’ve made they depend on us.

   For the Love of Bees   
    In recent years, keeping bees has been on the rise, as both hobby and small-scale business. Last year, some 1,895 beekeepers were registered with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, almost double the number in 2003.
    In Chesapeake Country, a perennial force for training aspirants is master beekeeper Steve McDaniel. For 15 years McDaniel has taught the beginner’s course for the Anne Arundel Beekeepers Association. “People have heard that bees are in trouble and the best way to help is to become a beekeeper,” he says.
    Teaching the course is fun for McDaniel, who’s been keeping bees since 1979. “There’s nothing like telling someone how to do something to clarify in your own mind how to do it. And I always learn from the students,” he says.

A contingent of beekeepers at the Maryland statehouse, above, scored a first-in-the-nation victory for bees when the legislature voted to restrict all consumer use of neonics, a pesticide blamed for knocking out bee populations.

    Beekeepers and their hives hum in all manner of places. One of the more distinctive is a Zen-like garden atop the Westin Hotel in downtown Annapolis, where Chef James Barrett has been keeping two hives since 2009 (although he lost one last winter). Barrett delights in the sensuous pleasures of beekeeping. “I love to get away for half an hour,” he says. “It’s so peaceful up there, with the sound of the buzzing. It’s a beautiful thing.”
    In a good year, Barrett harvests about 40 pounds of honey. It’s put to delicious use in dishes such as honey-lacquered salmon and honey-cured goat cheese, in gin drinks and honeycomb on cheese boards.
    Another special setting is the historic Paca House and Garden, where volunteer Peter Quinton tends a hive at the bottom of the garden next to a picturesque pond. A 1963 graduate of the Naval Academy and a retired naval commander, Quinton has kept bees on and off since 1954.
    In eight years, bee pollination has made Paca’s peach, cherry, apple and pear trees more fruitful. The resulting bounty of peaches is sold to Miss Nancy’s Fancy Bakery, which turns them into jams, sauces and flavored vinegars for sale in the Paca House gift shop.
    Despite successes, Quinton has frustrations. “In very cold weather, the bees sometimes will not break the warmth of the cluster, and they may starve to death even though there’s plenty of food.”
    Cold isn’t the only problem. “We’ve lost hives in the middle of summer,” Quinton notes. “The conclusion I’ve drawn is that the bees must have gone foraging somewhere where they were exposed to pesticides.”

   Mad as a Bee   
    One of the most ardent advocates for protecting bees from pesticides is Bonnie Raindrop, chair of the Legislative Committee of the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association. Raindrop has become the point person on neonicotinoids, class of pesticides that reaches every cell of its target plant and lingers over multiple growing seasons.
    Besides killing bees outright, neonics damage bees’ cognitive abilities and their immune systems. Weakened bees are more likely to succumb to parasites and infections. Last year, Maryland beekeepers lost 61 percent of their hives, about twice the national average.

“People have heard bees are in trouble and that the best way to help is to become a beekeeper,” says master beekeeper Steve McDaniel.

    Activism does not come naturally to beekeepers, Raindrop says. “Beekeepers are mostly introverts. We are science nerds, nature nerds. So this is brand new for us.”
    When it comes to neonics, Raindrop has been a fixture in Annapolis, attending hearings, providing expert testimony and meeting with legislators on beekeepers’ concerns — while leading a contingent of beekeepers in full regalia. “Although many beekeepers have day jobs, we still manage to have a good showing at legislative hearings. People feel passionately about this,” she says.
    Beekeepers scored a victory on April 7, as Maryland became the first state to vote to restrict all consumer use of neonics. Now the bill must withstand a veto campaign.
    “We are so pleased that this bill was so strongly supported by both parties and that legislators really heard how important this is to the people of Maryland,” Raindrop says.
Safe Spaces for Bees
    Anna Chaney is another bee champion. “Natural, healthy pollinators are crucial for a healthy food system,” she says.
    Chaney owns Honey’s Harvest Farm, a 160-acre farm transitioning from conventional agriculture to permaculture. Bob Greenwell, a prominent beekeeper in southern Anne Arundel and northern Calvert County, keeps 14 of his 100 hives there.
    Honey’s Harvest Farm manages the land to provide forage for bees. “We get aster, goldenrod and hairy vetch in the meadow, plus flowers of tulip poplar and black locust trees nearby,” Greenwell says.
    Devotion to bees knows no age limit. Lyle Wallace created the Goshen Farm Apiary as his Eagle Scout project. The apiary on the Broadneck Peninsula has four hives as well as informational displays, all built by Boy Scout Troop 2214 under Wallace’s direction.
    Students from neighboring Cape St. Claire Elementary School visit to learn about the bees, and Wallace and his dad Erik talk with curious gardeners who rent plots at Goshen Farm’s Sharing Garden.
    Last summer’s harvest, the first since the bees’ arrival, was “pretty amazing,” Wallace says. “The vegetables and produce were really big. I would say that the bees did their job.”
    Beekeepers have a job that keeps them as busy as their charges. They must provide all their bees need to flourish while advocating for an environment safe for bees.
    Teaching gardeners how pesticides affect bees is a big part of the job. “Homeowners do need to realize that despite the landmark vote on neonics legislation, these substances are in products that will remain on store shelves until 2018, and we hope they will choose wisely,” Raindrop says.
    Even a master like Steve McDaniel has to work to keep his bees safe. During a warm spell in December, they died shortly after going out to forage. “It’s like somebody poisoned my dog,” he says. “But I’m too stubborn to give up. I’ve had too many wonderful experiences with bees.”


 

   Make Your Garden Safe for Bees