The year was 2005 in Hillsborough, New Jersey. The previous fall I had planted a small orchard – maybe 16 or so fruit trees in the field next to our house – augmenting the 4 or 5 trees that were now 4 years old in another part ofthe yard.
Curious how the older trees never produced much of anything. Spring 2006 came, many of the trees bloomed and my family and I looked forward to some home grown fruit. The alternating warm and cold days of spring came and went, the flower petals fell off – and – hardly anyfruit was to be seen.I wondered why… until it occurred to me that we hadn’t seenmany bees. And that meant that we probably had very little pollination.
A little research and I slowly became aware of the plight of honey bees in the U.S. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), tracheal and Verroa mites, and numerous other diseases have befallen honey bees since the mid-1980′s. These diseases and the rampant use of herbicides and pesticides – especially in urban environments like we have in NJ - have destroyed more than 80% of the feral colonies in the US. In some places, a wild honey bee is a rare sight indeed. And no honey bees means very reduced pollination of crops.
What to do? “Lets get our own bees” I said to Patti, my wife, with a flash of over-exuberance! A little more research andI located a few beekeepers in and outside New Jersey. But I was too late… no bees were available for purchase by the time Igot around to seriously ordering some. Not that I knew what to do with them when they showed up – albeit local book stores did have a few beekeepingbooks -a favorite title being “Beekeeping for Dummies”.
A little more effort and I discovered that the New Jersey’s Department of Agriculture has a state apiarist – Tim Schuler. Tim was very welcoming and he told me about a “Beekeeping for Beginner’s” 3-day courseoffered by Rutgers University. Tim and Bob Hughes (another well known & experienced NJ beekeeper) ran the course and they were key in making me “almost obsessed” as some would say, with beekeeping. I started with two hives near my homein Hillsborough, NJ. By 2009 I had bee yards located on properties volunteered by friends, farmers and homeowners alike, in various locations in central New Jersey.
Yes, the bees do provide me and my benefactors with honey and wax, but most of all they provide mewith the pleasure of watching and participating in their fascinating lives. And in the process, I hope to give something back to them and nature.