Anavii Market interviews Griffin at Back Road Bee and how bees can help the hemp industry and the planet.
Tell us about the bees! How did you get into farming bees?
I got into beekeeping as a 7th grader because I thought it was cool. I went into my first season armed with what I had learned from library books which sufficed for a couple of years with two colonies. In the third year, I became involved in the local beekeeping club where I met my mentor, Jack Horn - and his mentor, Charles Barkley: between the two, they shared over 100 years of experience with me over many seasons before leaving us. That hands-on learning with 2 masters built my confidence to breed, expand, and trust my understanding of the honeybee.
3 years ago I bought Back Road Bee Farm in Linden, VA with the intention of building an apiary capable of supplying the surrounding area with healthy, local, overwintered bees.
What are the benefits of keeping bees?
Of course, keeping bees will give you local honey, pollen, wax, and propolis with their numerous benefits to allergies, inflammation, and digestion. Your neighbors will comment how much more their flowers bloom. Keeping bees will also give you a better appreciation of nature, a reason to stay informed and knowledgeable about native flora, and a path to learning about honeybees. In turn, it becomes difficult not to observe the pure altruism and efficiencies of social insects we can attempt to imitate for a better humanity. There will always be challenges managing honeybees and more to learn, which is what keeps it rewarding after so long.
How do bees aid in hemp farming?
I see hemp helping bees more than the opposite in the current environment. The fall forage provided by flowering hemp is invaluable to honeybee colonies building up reserves for winter. The potential for value-added infused honey and other colony products is certainly a boost to any farm's income.
What other ways do bees help humans and the planet?
Like every species, bees are just one part of the web sustaining life on Earth. Pollinators not only keep our food supply growing, they're also responsible for all the beautiful blooms around us.
Personally, bees seem to have a calming effect. Being around an open colony necessitates gentle, purposeful actions. You learn not to flinch or react to a sting, you control the direction of your exhale, the world outside stops while you absorb the activity of this particular colony. And should you get stung, the apitoxin, to those who are not deathly allergic, has anti-inflammatory properties shown to help with symptoms of arthritis and other chronic pain.
What's the process of removing swarms/hives from other's property?
In my dream scenario, there is a beautiful clump of bees dangling from a gutter, freshly swarmed, that I can gently sweep into an empty wooden nuc box. In reality, it is usually a second-story stone chimney with a small crack in the mortar or a gap in siding panels that has allowed a swarm to move in unnoticed and thrive for a season or two before their activity draws attention. For this, there is no process - I am chuckling writing this because - OH, how I wish there was! As the beekeeper, I usually do the careful chiseling or prying required to access the wax foundation of the colony: brood, honey, and queen and rely on more skilled buddies to help repair my access point. I would encourage all beekeepers and homeowners to be well aware of the potential damage and required repair; a jar of honey always sweetens any deal, but these situations can get sticky!
What can hemp farmers do with bees to improve their farms?
Any farm will be improved by bees! Aside from pollination and value-added honey/colony products; bees are what's up for the environment and that's a win for all of us. If your farm is open to visitors, a honeybee colony provides a great teaching tool that can lead to discussions about biology, conservation, and the environment. Keeping and understanding bees on your farm will give you an understanding of the blooming cycle, how rainfall affects nectar and fruit production, and teach you when to plant optimally.
Any advice you'd like to give our readers?
Find a local beekeeping group if you're interested in getting started. Any good beekeeper is excited to share what they know and often, a queen or nuc with tested and local genetics suited to your vectors and pathogens. You will make mistakes, you will feel uncertain, you will swear your honey is the best honey anyone has ever had; you will keep doing it every year until you're sure you've finally figured them out (spoiler: we never do) and I doubt you will regret it. Know your native plants, resist annuals, and legalize it - for the bees!
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