Nature's Golden Child
Apr 01, 2018 07:00AM
From colony to cooking and the hands-on management and politics in between, we visit local bee apiarists, their hives, and learn about why the honey bee is one of nature’s most important pollinators.
Many thousands of frantic “smoked out” bees swarmed me in a 360-degree arc. There is no other experience that can compare! Thankfully, I had big protection, even if stifling—full-body bee gear so I could observe Kara Brook Brown guide me step-by-step in the process of prepping her bee colonies. I mentally tried to soothe them to let them know we were only getting their hives in prime shape for spring. Soon, they could go back to their peaceful home.
I had offered to help my longtime friend, Brown, at her bee farm to get those sweeties ready for the big pollen haul, which takes place twice per year, as well as see the apiary along the Chester River waterfront. “Loaded with pollen,” Brown says, as she observes her bees’ fat legs. It looked like they were wearing big furry boots.
I got back in touch with this former business associate when I saw a poster featuring her bee products at a resort and spa. To catch up, Brown asked me to Chesterhaven Beach Farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, home to her 15 hives, along with many pollinating plants, to experience beekeeping firsthand.
After a strenuous morning of moving hives and bees around to fresh homes with new honeycomb frames, I got to hear the story. “It’s not about mass production, it’s about creating a product line and raising awareness about bees,” Brown tells me. In fact, to make the land of the former cotton and soybean farm sustainable, many bee-loving flowering plants are part of the landscape now, along with spring flowering trees. Even with this tender loving care, disease and mites are problems, so the hives must be checked continually.
Honey bees are critically important to the world’s agriculture industry, pollinating crops valued at more than $40 million in Maryland alone. Research shows that every third food bite we take is thanks to a pollinator, with managed honey bee colonies being the largest and most portable
of the pollinators.
Bee ProtectionJust a single day assisting a beekeeper got me interested in learning about the importance of bee protection. So, I checked in with Bob Greenwall in the Bowie, Maryland, area, who manages 16 of his 100 colonies on Honey Harvests Farm in Lothian, where he takes part in a system devised to improve the land, which was once a farm for cotton and soybeans. Bob shared a wealth of information, while explaining that he also raises nucs—smaller colonies containing five frames (rather than the normal 20 frames) to help beekeepers get started in a field with a steep learning curve and a lot of attrition. There is always more demand than supply.
There are many problems facing bees and Greenwall listed them. At this time in Maryland, the largest issue bees currently are up against are parasites in the form of mites, which travel easily from hive-to-hive. Viruses are brought in by the mites and are transmitted much like how a tick bite spreads disease to a dog or human. Pesticides alone account for a relatively small sliver of the total “bee pie problem,” Greenwall explains. Within pesticides, however, neonicotinoids or, neonics is a large family of pesticides which cause the largest die off. For this situation, you can help the bee population by avoiding plants and seeds treated with neonics. Seek out organic nurseries or ask suppliers if your plant is “bee-friendly” or neonic-free. It may seem obvious that lack of forage due to urbanization is the third obstruction to bees, as sprawl continues in much of the United States.
BeekeepersThere are different forms of beekeepers. Bee hobbyists are the first category of beekeepers who help spread the bee word in their beekeeping clubs and online newsletters. We may see beekeepers at our farmers’ markets and Greenwall shares that most of these folks are “sideliners” who run a small business, possibly with or without profit. Commercial beekeepers are less known to the public, but most important to our food system. Hays Apiaries in Hagerstown, Maryland, for example, has more than 600 colonies that are shipped annually to California to help pollinate the almond crop.
Apiary InspectorsThis is where Maryland’s six experienced apiary inspectors come into play, led by Cybil Preston, Maryland’s chief apiarist and her canine sidekick, Mack.
It was not just exciting, but just plain fun to interview Preston (and her dog Mack) and there was more to learn. It took a lot of pursuing to catch up with the team...always busy in the field. Mack, is a well-known fellow, actually a rock star, possibly because Maryland is the only state with a canine apiary inspection program. Preston adores her rescued partner and when not in the field, has him by her side in the office.
So, what’s a day in the life of a canine apiary inspector like? Mack works during the cooler months from November to April when the bees are less active in temperatures under 52 degrees, so he’s less likely to get stung. In the field, he walks with Preston from hive to hive, sniffing for American foulbrood bacterium (AFB).
"It's not about mass production, it's about creating a product line and raising awareness about bees." -Kara brook Brown
When Mack detects the disease, he sits down to alert Cybil that she needs to take a closer look. Cybil then opens the hive to inspect closely. These inspections help remove infected colonies before the disease has a chance to spread, helping to save the country’s already vulnerable bee population. The AFB kills both pupae and pre-pupae in bee colonies. Being highly contagious, it spreads in a vegetative form as well as through spores, which means if a hive is infected, it may have to be destroyed along with the beekeeping tools.
Mack works with great speed, efficiency, and accuracy, which enables him to inspect 100 honeybee colonies in 45 minutes. An average human inspector can inspect 45 colonies in one day. For this reason, Mack and Preston work first with the largest commercial producers in the state, then move on to the largest beekeepers. If the season allows, they may work with small apiaries. The other Maryland apiary inspectors handle the smaller apiaries. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has had a bee dog on staff since 1982. Soon, there will be two canine bee sniffers when Preston’s beagle mix, Clark, is trained.
50 Pollen-Rich Plants to Help Your Local Honeybees
Purple flowering onions
(Crocus x luteus)
Bishop Series dahlias
Blue anise sage
Perennials and Biennials
Blue mist bush
Fruit trees, especially
apple, plum, and cherry
(Malus and Prunus spp.)
Clean BeekeepingFor an update on a long-established beekeeper in our area, I caught up with Joe Brotherton of Mr. B’s Apiaries at a local farmers’ market to see how his bees are doing. Joe has been in business many years and currently has 25 hives (the most owned in the state as a sideliner), which he keeps on three different farms. The hives have been disease-free for close to eight years because Brotherton is adamant about clean farming; meaning, the farmers must not use any chemicals or pesticides, which are damaging to the bees. If they don’t comply, Brotherton moves his hives.
You can take advantage of Maryland’s free expert advice and help the apiary inspectors. Through the Maryland Department of Agriculture, register your hives and make contact via phone or email. You always have someone to call with a beekeeping question, problem, or crisis.
National Pollinator Health StrategyThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took action to protect pollinators from pesticide exposure by creating the National Pollinator Health Strategy that promotes the health of honey bees and other pollinators (including birds, bats, butterflies, and insects).
The goals of the National Pollinator Health Strategy are to:
Restore honey bee colony health to sustainable levels by 2025
Increase Eastern monarch butterfly populations to 225 million butterflies by year 2020
Restore or enhance seven million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years
For more information visit
Maryland's Pollinator Protection ActMaryland is one of only six states in the U.S. to protect the bee population. On May 25, 2017, Governor Hogan signed the Pollinator Habitat Bill into law. According to the Smart on Pesticides Maryland Coalition, “Maryland’s pollinators are at risk, due in part to pesticides and a lack of sufficient habitat. The law aimed to restore and increase habitat for bees, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. This law requires that Maryland’s Departments of Natural Resources, Environmental Services, and the State Highway Administration establish pollinator habitat plans for lands owned or managed by each agency.”
Cooking with Honey Wondering what you can make with honey? Here’s one of Kara Brook Brown’s favorite recipes.
Honey Lime Shrimp
Our Eastern Shore Honey makes a fantastic glaze for seafood. The sweetness mellows out while
cooking, and the sugars in the honey will give a great glaze to the shrimp. If you decide to make the shrimp on the grill, the smokiness of the cooking process will really add dimension to your meal.
1/3 cup plus two tablespoons
Eastern Shore Honey
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 lime, juiced
1–2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled
1 pound snow peas, washed
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut into halves
salt and pepper to taste
For the marinade: In a large bowl, mix 1/3 cup honey, lime juice, one tablespoon raw minced garlic. Clean, peel and, devein shrimp. Cover with marinade coating completely. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat, add shrimp and cook evenly on both sides (about 2 to 3 minutes per side). When shrimp are pink and opaque, they are fully cooked. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of honey and allow shrimp to caramelize (brown). Remove shrimp from skillet. Toss vegetables with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and remaining garlic. Add back to skillet and cook for several minutes. Turn off the heat and add the shrimp back to the pan, stirring to mix with vegetables. Serve hot over rice.
Adapting Honey Lime Shrimp
Make this recipe yours. If you are feeling creative or you prefer to use a different protein or a different vegetable that may currently be more readily available at your farmers’ market, we say go for it. Play with your food. Change up this recipe.
Here are some ideas:
Add a mix of your favorite vegetables to this recipe
Squeeze in lemon juice instead of lime
Try scallops or chicken instead of shrimp
With close to three decades in the food, media production, marketing and public relations fields, Rita Calvert has created myriad programs, events,and The Annapolis School of Cooking. She has partnered in writing cookbooks and product lines to showcase the inspiration, art, and nourishment of food.