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Stories from The Lodge at Blue Sky

Stories from The Lodge at Blue Sky

Do The State of BEEing with Northern Roots Bee Co.

Beekeeper tending to beehive

On June 21, Blue Sky explores our passion for pollinators with the Northern Roots Bee Co. in an all-day series of experiences focused on bees and beekeeping. We caught up with co-owners Molly Eaton and Cole Yakemchuk to learn more about bees and the important roles they contribute to the health of our ecosystem.

 

Many people know that “the bees are in trouble”, but don’t really understand why or what exactly that means. Could you tell us why the bees are in jeopardy?

“Beekeeping is all about symbiosis, and there are flaws in the current model of beekeeping within our country; we want to change the way in which they are cared for and utilized in agriculture. Each year in the US alone, we lose roughly 45% of our honeybee population. Bees are in trouble for four main reasons: 

Firstly, bees are being shipped all over the country for agricultural reasons; they are shipped to different regions to help pollinate farms and big agriculture. But this isn’t a bee-friendly way to do things: Hives are being loaded onto semi trucks for multiple days which creates stress in the bee populations. Bees are very hearty in some ways, and delicate in others. If there are any sick bees on the truck, being in such close proximity for several days in bumpy road conditions can make illness spread quickly so by the time those hives reach their end destination there are far fewer healthy bees than there were at the start of the journey. Bees are also being shipped to/from different climates than what they have been acclimated to. For example, bees could be shipped from Maine to Florida; not only is that a long stressful journey for the hives, Maine bees just aren’t used to living in the hot humid environment of Florida so there is a huge adjustment process there and many don’t make it. 

We aim to provide solutions to this: If agricultural companies within our region needs bees, the Northern Roots Bee Company will deliver or drive hives from one of our hubs to a farm within the same microclimate to avoid illness, long trips and undue stress which provides healthier colonies. 

The second reason that bees are in trouble has to do with pesticide use. Pesticides are sprayed on commercially-grown food, and then honeybees forage on nectar from a flower that has been sprayed; the bees then ingest small amounts of that poison over long periods of time. Even small developing bees will be poisoned from a young age as they grow, so they haven’t really had much of a chance to survive from the start. The use of heavy pesticides is detrimental to the health of bees. 

The third threat to the survival of bees is climate change. Changes in weather patterns, drought and wildfires are altering the synchronicity between flowers and bees; it impacts how a bee is able to forage on those plants for nourishment and this in turn creates stress on entire colonies. 

The fourth element that is threatening bee populations is Varroa Mites; these teeny organisms feed on the fat bodies of bees (a bee organ) and if left unmanaged can completely decimate a hive; they also vector nasty viruses that can wipe out an entire hive.”

 

Why did you originally become fascinated with bees and beekeeping?

“We got our first 4 hives in 2016 as a personal project and became completely transfixed by their complex social structure and their work ethic, which ultimately impacts the survival of our own species. It’s an honor to live at the intersection of agriculture, science and art. 

Our first apiary was in Carmel; we’ve since developed several “pollination hubs” mainly in the greater San Francisco Bay area to keep our efforts centralized. Each honeybee hive has a 6 mile “pollination radius” from that particular hive, or 18,000 acres. There is a lot of great work being done by the bees even when their hives aren’t being moved to other nearby farms. That’s a model that we love to work with.”

What can people do to help support solutions for the bees’ survival?

“Anyone can help create micro solutions to these issues: Find flowers that are nutrient-rich for your area and plant them in your garden, and don’t treat them with pesticides. Also ensure that you don’t buy pollinator plants that have previously been treated with neonicotinoids (a systemic pesticide/insecticide) – this is really important! Lavender and culinary herbs that are left to flower are great inexpensive options that are fragrant and which most people enjoy having in their garden. You’re offering a healthy, unpoisoned habitat and meal for bees, many of which can travel great distances to forage in your garden. In the summer, you can also help provide a water source for bees by leaving out a dish or feeders for them; in the summer, one hive will consume up to an entire gallon of water a day so staying hydrated is extremely important for them. 

On a more macro scale, we need to re-imagine how we use our honeybees in our agricultural system; current beekeepers are just trying to fill a service by assisting in the shipment of bees across the country because we need pollinators for food production for our population, but if we can shift towards a model where we are deploying bees from a more centralized locale, this will be easier for the bees to adapt. Long-term, best-case scenario, we want to foster healthy bees within the regions that they need to pollinate.”

 

What are you most excited for at the upcoming State of BEEing event at Blue Sky?

“We are excited to share our passion about honeybees with others and show people the intricacies of the beehives. Many people are afraid of bees or being stung, and we love to transform fear into fascination by deep-diving into the incredible lives of honeybees, and also sharing the vastness and complexity of honey. Most people have just had supermarket clover honey but aren’t aware of the entire spectrum of what’s actually available, which is so nuanced. 

We love talking about queen bee-rearing which most people are really excited to learn about; typically there is just one queen per hive, but there can be unique situations where there is more than one queen. Once, we had a hive that had 3 queens, and we love investigating the ways in which they all communicate and collaborate to ensure the success of the hive. We love situations that make me rethink everything I know, and love sharing this information with other people. 

We also love educating people on pheromone communication; most communication that happens within a hive is pheromone-based. It’s incredible that the hive members are constantly monitoring the pheromones that are being put out by the queen to direct their collective work. Queens coordinate the efforts of the drones and the worker bees. She regulates the hive’s behavior to get the job done.  

Bees are an “indicator species”, meaning that they provide a glimpse into the overall health of the planet. If they are in jeopardy it’s an indication that there are much bigger collective issues at play. We all have a unique and privileged opportunity to do our part to reinvigorate their population which in turn will benefit everyone.”Stories from The Lodge at Blue Sky

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