Beekeeping in Connecticut offers rewards and challenges
By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Willington - posted Wed., Sep. 4, 2013
Honeybees - love them or hate them, they are a fixture of the summer experience, buzzing about in our flower gardens and occasionally reminding us of their existence with a painful sting.
As any local beekeeper will tell you, however, honeybees do have their good points. For starters, they are responsible for pollinating a solid one-third of our food supply. If that weren’t enough, their pollen- and nectar-collecting practices, essential for producing and sustaining their young, also provide us with honey and beeswax, two by-products we use and consume in a wide variety of ways.
“More and more people are trying [beekeeping], but it’s a lot of work,” said Noah Pasardi of Willington, who has been keeping hives for about the past five years. “I got into it when a neighbor moved here from Pennsylvania. His father had kept bees and he got me hooked. I found it went well with our maple syrup-making business, which we’ve been doing for over 25 years. We had a built-in clientele.”
Pasardi and his family sell honey, beeswax candles, hand cream and lip balm made from beeswax. The honey they sell varies in color and flavor depending on the flowers the nectar has been collected from. “Later in the summer, you get a darker, fruitier honey, which comes from goldenrod,” said Pasardi.
As a newcomer to hobby beekeeping, Pasardi said he initially took a beginner’s beekeeping course offered by the Eastern Connecticut Beekeepers Association on the Storrs campus at the University of Connecticut. The course has proven helpful, as has membership in the association, where members can share ideas and solutions to various problems.
“It’s a lot harder [to keep bees] than it was 20 years ago,” said Pasardi, who keeps 15 separate hives spread out over three different properties in town. “You can’t just put bees in a box and come back in the fall.” Pasardi said Varroa mites, which hit the area hard in the 1990s, pose a constant threat to hives, and beekeepers need to be diligent in controlling infestations. Otherwise, the mites can destroy entire colonies. Because mites tend to lay their eggs in drone bee cells, Pasardi said he uses a hive tool to cut those cells out of their frames. “I put [the cells] in a freezer for three or four days and it kills the mites and the drones. Then I melt the wax left over and use it for making our candles and hand creams,” he said.
Mites aren’t the only problems for beekeepers. Pasardi said pesticides used on the plants that bees pollinate and changes in weather conditions also pose problems for beekeepers. For example, in the early 1980s heavy pesticide use to combat a gypsy moth infestation resulted in large bee hive losses in Connecticut. In his personal operation, Pasardi said he was challenged one year by local bears knocking his hives over three or four times. To keep bears away, he has erected a barbed wire perimeter around the hives and installed a solar-operated blinking red light that helps to deter bears. He has also found that putting Irish Spring soap in onion bags and hanging them near the hives is off-putting to bears. “They don’t like the smell,” he said.
While surplus honey and beeswax can be a money-making enterprise for the local beekeeping hobbyist, pollination services is a huge industry, the country’s largest pollination event being the fertilizing of California’s 800,000 acres of almond orchards. Pasardi said whether it is hundreds of acres of blueberries in Maine or large-scale fields of pumpkins somewhere else, farming operations that use mechanized harvesting equipment count on having their crops pollinated all at once in order to be able to harvest them all at the same time. For that, they need a lot of bees. “They truly are a livestock,” he said.