Our Honeybee Project

Mary-showing-frame-of-brood-with-queenWe have been asked many times by our brides-to-bees and mommies-to-bees on how did we get into beekeeping- and we are also asked what our Honeybee project is all about. So it goes back to when Mary and I first met-during a Friday night Fred Astaire Dance Party. At the end of the evening we decided to continue dancing and even to schedule dance lessons together. Then a week later we had our first date- we went bird watching.

Mary was training 17 Thoroughbred horses at the time so I began going to the race track with her and did odd jobs to help her out – like mucking the stalls, carrying bales of hay, feeding the horses,trailering the horses to the races and cheering her on when she saddled the horses just before a race.

Two years after we met Mary got out of the horse business, we got married and purchased a 2.5 acre property in Tinton Falls, NJ. The property had a lot of potential and we thought we could raise draft horses, sheep or maybe plant christmas trees on it.

Near the end of the first year in our new home we saw the movie, Ulyee’s Gold with Peter Fonda. In the movie Fonda plays Ulee, a Vietnam veteran, widower and grandfather. He is a beekeeper who is raising his two granddaughters since his son is in jail and his daughter-in-law is a drug addict. The movie was filmed on a real beekeeping operation which was located in Florida. A day after seeing the movie I purchased our first beehive from a beekeeper in Vineland, NJ. At the time I did not know that Mary had kept bees when she was going to Agriculture school and that her father had been a sideliner beekeeper in Georgia.

For the first 5 years we grew our hobby to 80 hives from that very first hive. In July 2002 we harvested 4,000 pounds of honey; but a month later over 40 of our hives died- they just collapsed. We were devastated! We spoke to all our Beekeeper friends and about the best they could tell us was the mites that we had been treating for, had become immune to the treatments. The conventional thinking had been to treat the mites with chemicals and when the chemicals didn’t work anymore then we should switch to the newest chemical which the mites still had not yet become immune to. Mary and I had worried a lot about treating our bees with chemical medications and this disaster was the last straw.

We immediately began to look around to see what other beekeepers were doing to fight the mites that didn’t involve chemicals! Soon we discovered a Honey Bee project that was being run at the USDA , ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetic, Physiology Research Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana that was actually working with Russian Queen Honey Bees imported from Russia. The purpose of the project was to determine if the Russian race of the Honey Bee species (Apis mellifera) would be more resistant to the mite (Varroa jacobsoni).

The western Honeybee, Apis mellifera, is not native to the Primorsky Territory on Russia’s Pacific coast, but was first moved there in the last century. At that time, pioneers from western Russia took advantage of the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway and moved bees from European western Russia to the Primorsky Territory in Asian far-eastern Russia. This far-eastern area of Russia is within the natural range of the Asian Honeybee, Apis cerana, the original host of the mite, Varroa jacobsoni. Thus Apis mellifera was brought into the likely range of the mite, V. jacobsoni even before the parasite was scientifically described in 1904. This probable long association of the mite, V. jacobsoni, and the western honey bee, Apis mellifera, in the region has created one of the best opportunities in the world for the western Honeybee, Apis mellifera, to develop genetic resistance to the mite, V. jacobsoni…. (Source: USDA Agriculture Research Service)

When Mary and I discovered the American Honey Producers Association was meeting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for their 34th Annual Convention (January, 2003) and they were going to highlight the Russian Honey Bee and also take a field trip to the USDA , ARS Honey Bee lab we booked our flight!

As expected the AHPA convention was great and we got a chance to meet the research personnel from the lab and even got a chance to handle the Russian Honeybees while at the USDA , ARS Honey Bee lab. In addition we met some of the beekeeping cooperators, the commercial beekeepers from Iowa, Mississippi, Louisiana who participated in the field trials of the Russian Honey Bee, and we were able to have extended discussions with them about their experiences with the Russian Honey Bee.

In the Spring of 2003 we began, in earnest, the remaking of our operation. For the first 5 years we added what we felt were true Russian stock from reputable beekeepers. At the same time we stopped all treatments on our bees-we wanted to encourage our bees to fend for themselves as we brought in new Russian stock.

In 2008 after taking 3 classes with Sue Cobey we brought in our first Carniolan breeder queen from Glenn Apiaries. We found the Carniolans to be a wonderful bee to work with. And when we began bringing in Sue Cobey’s New World Carniolan Breeder Queens in 2009 our appreciation for the the bee increased; they are gentle to work with and exhibit a high level of hygienic behaviour. Due to the wonderful characteristics of the NWC we ceased bringing in Russian stock and moved our operation over to New World Carniolans in 2013. In 2014 we will be bringing in another NWC breeder plus we will be placing VSH daughter queen hives near our breeding yards with the ultimate goal of continuing to improve our bees.

Our timeline:

2003 – introduced Russian queens from Bob Brachman(NY) and Hubert Tubs Apiaries (MS).

2004– brought in Russian queens from Bob Brachman (NY) and Ray Revis(NC). Ed completed a queen rearing course with Sue Cobey at the University of Ohio.

2005– brought in Russian queens from Ray Revis (NC).

2006 -conducted 1st grafting; brought in Russian queens from Bob Brachman(NY) and Ray Revis(NC). Introduced a Russian Breeder queen from Glenn Apiaries(CA).

2007 – began regular seasonal grafting sessions from May through August;brought in a Russian breeder queen from Glenn Apiaries(CA) and introduced Kirk Webster(VT) Russian winter nucs. Mary attended her 1st instrumental insemination class at UC,Davis.

2008– brought in Glenn Aiaries (CA)Russian and Carniolan breeder queens. Mary attended the advanced instrumental class at UC, Davis.

2009, 2010, 2011 & 2012 – brought in Sue Cobey (CA,WA)NWC Breeder Queens and Charlie Harper(LA) Russian queens each year.Continued seasonal grafting sessions from May through August

2013 -brought in a Sue Cobey (WA) NWC breeder queen

2014 -brought in a Sue Cobey NWC breeder queen. Established hives with VSH John Harbo daughter queens a half mile from our main breeding yard.