Bees are Killingly man's mission

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Jan. 20, 2014
Byron Martin spoke about bee keeping at Logee's Greenhouse. Photos by D. Coffey.
Byron Martin spoke about bee keeping at Logee's Greenhouse. Photos by D. Coffey.

Killingly Agriculture Commission member Byron Martin spoke to a packed classroom on Jan. 18. They’d gathered at Logee’s Greenhouse for a KAC-sponsored bee-keeping session. Martin had plenty of information to share. He’s been keeping bees since 1972. His father was a beekeeper before him. As owner of Logee's, Martin is intimately familiar with how important bees are. Their broad scale pollination power is crucial not only to agricultural production in the United States, but also around the world.

Those who showed up for Martin’s class were rewarded with a wealth of information on bee history, morphology, and the latest scientific advances in bee research. Martin can speak at length about the division of labor in a hive, how far bees can travel to find honey, and why they swarm. He has captured swarms and put them in his own hives. He has handled plenty of bees. And while honey is a cash crop for him, it isn’t what drives him. “I like bees more than I like honey,” he said.

Unfortunately, honey bees have been under stress on many fronts, from parasites and pathogens to environmental stresses. American Foul Brood, a spore-forming bacteria that can wipe out entire hives, and the Varroa mite, a parasite that started killing off large numbers of hives in the mid-'90s, are two particularly nasty stressors.

Scientists believe these two factors contribute mightily to what’s known as Colony Collapse Disorder. The phenomenon involves hives where a queen, brood and honey are present, but adult honey bees are not. It became a serious problem in 2006. With some commercial bee keepers reporting losses of 30 to 90 percent, and agricultural pollination accounting for nearly $15 billion, USDA researchers got to work.

Martin has followed that research closely. He’s hopeful that relief for the honeybee lies in its own genetic potential. The USDA was successful in creating a mite-resistant honeybee, but it could not produce honey. Researchers John Harbo and Marla Spivak have used selective breeding to create varroa- and disease-resistant bees. It’s the promise of genetic research that has Martin hopeful.

He’s glad for the publicity surrounding CCD. He believes that it's part of the reason for the increased interest in bee keeping. “It’s become very popular,” he said. “Bee-keeping is on the rise. Bee magazines are thriving. The bee industry is selling bees and equipment. Prices are rising with the demand.”

More beekeepers and an increased attention on honeybees could help the health of local bees. And while honeybees aren’t out of the woods, Martin is hopeful about their future.

Connecticut researchers found spores in 50 to 75 percent of the hives in the state, but there was only a 3-percent infection rate. “Some other mechanism is suppressing AFB,” Martin said. There is hope on the mite front as well. “You’ll never get rid of the mites,” he said, “but bees are being created that will live in harmony with them so our honey production doesn’t go down and the bees don’t die off. That’s exciting.”


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