Saving Honeybees, One Hive at a Time

Teaming up with like-minded individuals and organizations is one of the most effective ways to broaden the scope and reach of your message. In our case, partnering with the Rodale Institute has not only deepened our ability to deliver our message of bee conservation but also given us an opportunity to affect real change through hosting a bee hive at the beautiful Honeybee Conservancy
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 The Honeybee Conservancy at Rodale Institute was started in 2012 in response to colony collapse disorder and the major health problems that have devastated the honeybee population in North America. They believe that individual honeybee stewards are one of the solutions to this problem. ‘Coach’ Mark Smallwood, the Director of Rodale Institute, shares how his goal for the Conservancy mimics Rodale Institute’s very first study on organic vs. conventional farming methods in stating:
     “We’re most well-known for a study we started back in 1981 called the Farming Systems Trial so it’s a 34 year study, it’s the longest of its kind in the United States and it’s growing conventional right next to organic produce and so that’s sort of the routine that we follow – we try to mimic anything else that we do in this realm. So right now we have conventional hives and organic hives. They’re not all at the Rodale Institute they’re on 3 different sites but we’re going to do conventional treatments on half and organic treatments on the other half and begin to collect that data and really focus on hive health, not honey production but hive health. Just in the short-term, we’re seeing the organic hives doing much better than the conventional but we want to collect good data and keep going over the next couple years. Our hypothesis is that the conventional treatments do harm to the hive bodies, the organic does not. That’s what we’re trying to prove.”
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The Conservancy promotes healthy beekeeping practices through education and outreach and includes classes in sustainable beekeeping practices, support for beginner beekeepers through the network and hive hosting on their 333-acre organic farm.
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We are thrilled to have our own hive at the Conservancy and hope to inspire others who can’t keep bees on their own properties to do the same! Find out more information about the Honeybee Conservancy and Rodale Institute at: http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/honeybee-conservancy/ and our partnership on our ‘Our Partners page’.

Whether you’re a green thumb with a garden or a city-dweller, we have compiled a list of ways you can partake in the effort to save the bees.

  • Banning pesticides and chemicals from your garden creates an environment in which pollinators can thrive.
  • Just like humans, bees love diversity in their diet! Try to plant a varied selection of plants to supply pollinators with an abundance of pollen and nectar.
  • Along with native plant species, plan an herb garden with anything in the mint family, including perennial sages, and allow them to flower to really attract native bee species.
  • Make sure to avoid hybrid plant varieties as they often do not product as much nectar or pollen as heirloom varieties!
  • Create habitats for wild bees if you have the space – leave branches, bare ground and natural shelters for bees rather than landscaped and manicured lawns.
  • Choose Non-GMO and organic products whenever possible to support those who are also doing their part to help save the bees! 

An Interview with The Rodale Institute and a Summer Fir Honey Giveaway!

In celebration of National Organic Honey Month, Wedderspoon sat down (virtually) with The Rodale Institute’s resident beekeeper and expert on all things bee, Michael Schmaeling to discuss some basics in beekeeping and why he loves working with these incredible pollinators. A huge thanks to Michael and the rest of The Rodale Institute team for helping us create awareness about this important cause!

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How did you become interested in beekeeping? How did you get started?

‘Coach’ Mark Smallwood, our executive director, was beekeeping one afternoon last year in the apiary when he saw a swarm and needed help. I was riding past him on my bicycle and he called me over. Within a few short minutes, I was 30 feet up in a tree capturing my first swarm.  I quickly became fascinated, then obsessed with honeybees. I’ve been hooked ever since.

What type of hive do you work with? What are the benefits/drawbacks to using that type of hive?

I work with top bar / Langstroth hybrid hives.  The top bar arrangement mimics a hollow tree so that bees can make brood and honey as they would in nature. The Langstroth arrangement allows the beekeeper to take honey and work the hives easily. I leave the honey in the top bar section for the bees to eat over the winter.

One drawback to using in this hive is that because we don’t use foundation, sometimes we have problems with cross-combing and bulging. Cross-combing is when they build their comb across two or more top bars instead of straight along a single top bar. Bulging is when some of the comb bulges out, so the bees compensate on the next bar, and then the next, till all the comb is made in a semi-circle instead of vertical.

Do you feed your bees with anything? If so, what? Do you allow them to keep some of their honey?

I don’t feed our bees anything. Not even water. We have a pond less than 100 yards from the apiary.

At this stage in the development of the apiary, we allow the bees to keep all of their honey. The plan is to let a colony keep all their honey until they are very strong, which may take up to three years. Once the colony is strong and healthy, the  plan is to keep the top bar section of the hive full of honey for the bees to keep, and then to add Langstroth boxes for the bees to fill with honey for harvest.

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Where do your bees come from? Are all bees basically the same or are there many different bee varieties?

 We bought packages of bees from Azure Bee in Maryland, from Stefano Briguglio who was mentored by ‘Coach’ Mark Smallwood, just like me. The packages included one queen and three pounds of bees. They are untreated Italian Honeybees.

There are over 20,000 species of bees, and 7 recognized species of honeybee, and 44 subspecies of honeybee. There are hybrids and different genetic variations.

 What’s the most fulfilling part of a beekeeper’s job?

I feel a deep personal connection with something very different from me, and yet not so different. Sometimes when I get home, I can still hear them buzzing. A healthy colony is truly a super-organism. There are maybe 50,000 bees in a healthy colony, but they are one. They work so hard individually, but everything they do is for the colony. I love the smell on my hands after I’ve worked the hives. I love planting flowers for them. I love just watching them. I know when I see flowers bloom on the farm, or when the plants go to seed, that I was a part of that. Beekeeping is about so much more than honey.

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In honor of July National Honey Month we are giving away jars of our 100% Greek Raw Fir Honey to 12 lucky winners! Take a photo of bees in your garden, bee friendly plants, or any photo of you helping the bees in some way at home!! Tag/link Wedderspoon Organic USA’s Facebook page in the photos or email them to kelly@wedderspoon.com by July 31st. Additionally, our Greek Fir honey is 50% right now (while supplies last) so shop the sale here!

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Follow our campaign to change Honey Month to July with The Rodale Institute here or at rodaleinstitute.org

July is National Honey Month: #beeaware of the change!

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Since 1989, the National Honey Board has celebrated September as National Honey Month and until this year no one has questioned the awareness event’s chosen month or incentive. But after a careful investigation into best beekeeping practices and dialogues in conjunction with our partner, The Rodale Institute, Wedderspoon has decided to come forward to create a campaign to change Honey Month. ‘Coach’ Mark Smallwood, The Rodale Institute’s Executive Director explains the impetus for the change and our motivation in stating “If you are a beekeeper and you are going to take honey, you should finish by the end of July so that the bees have enough honey to survive the winter. Continuing to harvest honey until September does not give them enough time to build necessary stores for the winter.”

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Our joint campaign to change Honey Month will celebrate honeybees and their contribution to the food system as pollinators. We also aim to raise awareness around the decline in honeybee populations and the threats they face in the form of toxic agricultural chemicals. Beekeepers have been reporting losses in their colonies of around 30-90% each year since around 2006 and unfortunately there is no end in sight. The plight of the honeybee, though seemingly far-removed from our daily life, is indeed crucial to our collective health. Not only are they responsible for pollinating upwards of 90% of our yummiest flowering crops but honeybees are also referred to as ‘canaries in the mine’ or ‘keystone species’ – indicators of wider environmental damage able to monitor and alert us to negative environmental influences before other signs and symptoms are seen on a larger scale.

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We hope to utilize our position and wield our influence in order to spread awareness about this extremely important and timely issue. Please continue to check back for a special giveaway, informative blog posts and special bee facts throughout the entire month of July! Remember to use the hashtag #beeaware to tag your own posts about pollinator-friendly gardening and show the bees some love!

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Don’t forget to visit our ‘Our Partners’ page to find out more about this exciting initiative with The Rodale Institute.

Manuka Honey for the Skin and Some Love for Our Honeybees #beeaware

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When friends, family and readers inquire about a product suggestion for the treatment of acne, my constant recommendation is honey! Actually, you don’t need to ask, I’ll point my finger to your spot and tell you to “just rub a little honey on it”. I must strongly emphasize that I am not referring to just any honey, but specifically raw, organic manuka honey with an activity level of 12-16. You can rub any run-of-the-mill honey into your skin until you are red in the face and not receive the benefits specific to this certain variety.

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Manuka Honeyhails from New Zealand and is collected from honeybees that pollinate the native Manuka bush and it is powerful! No prescription strength cream or OTC spot treatment works in the wondrous ways as this “medical honey.” With naturally occurring antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties (due to a naturally occurring hydrogen peroxide…

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