What’s all the buzz about?

South­ern Mary­land a haven for bee­keep­ing

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

“OK, girls, we’re com­ing in,” Jerry Wor­rell of Dunkirk said one hot July morn­ing as he in­spected his bee­hives, an ac­tiv­ity he does one or more times a week.

Wor­rell has been bee­keep­ing since 1972, at the urg­ing of his real es­tate agent, who pro­vided him with his first colony.

“It was a lot eas­ier then,” he said. “We didn’t have all the pests that we have to­day. We’ve got tra­cheal mites, we’ve got var­roa mites, we’ve got hive bee­tles, you name it. It’s a lot harder to keep bees when you have to spend more time

do­ing in­spec­tions for the health of your colony.”

Wor­rell is one of the found­ing mem­bers of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­ern Mary­land Bee­keep­ers, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides ed­u­ca­tion, sup­port and com­mu­nity for the re­gion’s grow­ing num­ber of bee­keep­ers. He said in­ter­est in bee­keep­ing has grown sub­stan­tially over the past cou­ple of decades.

Wor­rell said he does not wear pro­tec­tive gear, in­clud­ing masks and gloves, around his bees.

“I only wear a veil if it’s ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary,” he said. “This way, you’re much more care­ful with the bees. With gloves, you can’t feel any­thing through them, you don’t know if there’s any­thing on your hand, and if there is a bee, and you squeeze and crush her, she’s go­ing to set off a pheromone alarm and get all the oth­ers to fight.”

Wor­rell said he re­lies on the ef­fects of his bee smoker to keep the bees dis­tracted while he in­spects the hives.

“Lib­eral use of smoke takes care of a lot of prob­lems,” he said.

The smoke ap­par­ently causes bees to fear there may be a fire ap­proach­ing, and so they con­sume honey in prepa­ra­tion for pos­si­bly flee­ing the hive, dis­tend­ing their ab­domens and mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult to sting, ac­cord­ing to Wor­rell.

“Hav­ing a full honey stom­ach means they can’t ex­tend their stingers,” he said.

Worker bees only live about six weeks, Wor­rell said, so the bees do not have enough time to get used to his vis­its.

“The first three weeks, they haven’t got their wings. Well, they’ve got their wings, but they haven’t got their fly­ing li­cense yet,” he said. “Then they get three weeks of flight, and then they die. The bees that you get in the spring are not go­ing to be the same ones you have in the fall.”

This does re­sult in Wor­rell’s get­ting stung from time to time, but he said that is one of the risks in bee­keep­ing. Re­peated stings over the years have al­lowed him to build up a re­sis­tance to their venom, he said.

“If you can’t get stung, you don’t be­long in bee­keep­ing,” Wor­rell said.

This year has been an es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult one for honey har­vests, he said.

“With all the rain we had [in the spring], cro­cus and holly and a cou­ple of the oth­ers were in bloom when we had all that rain dur­ing the mid­dle of the day. And guess what? Bees don’t fly in the rain,” Wor­rell said. “Not only must we know what’s go­ing on in the hive, we have to know about the lo­cal­ity.”

He said that the land­scap­ing at nearby Dunkirk Mar­ket­place in­cluded lin­den trees. “Lin­den trees bloom af­ter cro­cus and holly. We had a fairly dry pe­riod there, and so that’s why I was able to get some honey at all. A lot of peo­ple say they got al­most no honey this year be­cause of all the rain.”

He said that in a good year, he ex­pects to har­vest ap­prox­i­mately 60 to 70 pounds of honey. He also uses the beeswax to make can­dles. But Wor­rell said he doesn’t do it for the money.

“I do it be­cause I re­ally just like bees,” he said.

Gene Brandi, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Bee­keep­ing Fed­er­a­tion, said it is dif­fi­cult to know ex­actly how many bee­keep­ers there are in the United States, “but from the rapidly grow­ing mem­ber­ship of lo­cal, state and na­tional bee­keep­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions, it is clear that bee­keep­ing has be­come a more pop­u­lar pur­suit in re­cent years.” He said the most fre­quent es­ti­mates are ap­prox­i­mately 250,000 bee­keep­ers na­tion­wide.

He said hon­ey­bees are fac­ing a num­ber of chal­lenges, from pes­ti­cides, dis­ease and par­a­sites, but the loss of bees due to Colony Col­lapse Dis­or­der, the lit­tle-un­der­stood con­di­tion in which the ma­jor­ity of work­ers leave an other­wise seem­ingly healthy hive, has brought the plight of hon­ey­bees to the fore­front of the pub­lic con­scious­ness and re­newed in­ter­est in bee­keep­ing through­out the coun­try.

“It is im­por­tant for the thou­sands of new bee­keep­ers to learn as much as they can in or­der for them to keep their bees alive and healthy with­out jeop­ar­diz­ing the health of other bees in the area,” Brandi said. “For ex­am­ple, they need to learn about bee dis­ease iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, var­roa mite con­trol, and whether or not it is nec­es­sary to feed their bee hives in or­der to avoid star­va­tion.”

In 2016, the ABF es­tab­lished a com­pli­men­tary mem­ber­ship pro­gram for new bee­keep­ers, and since Fe­bru­ary its mem­ber­ship has more than quadru­pled, Brandi said.

“Those with com­pli­men­tary mem­ber­ships re­ceive our monthly E-Buzz elec­tronic news­let­ter, have ac­cess to the we­bi­nars we hold twice each month, and can also ac­cess the archived we­bi­nars on our web­site that have been pre­sented over the past sev­eral years,” he said. “It is our hope that through the ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able through these means, the ABF can help these new bee­keep­ers be­come bet­ter bee­keep­ers.” Crack­ing the code Lusby res­i­dent Mike Freas is one of the many new­com­ers to bee­keep­ing.

“It’s an art form, that’s for cer­tain. One I haven’t mas­tered,” Freas said,

laugh­ing. “I like it be­cause it’s some­thing dif­fer­ent that not many peo­ple do.”

Freas, an ac­tive-duty Navy of­fi­cer, said bee­keep­ing is some­thing he’s al­ways been in­ter­ested in, but only se­ri­ously con­sid­ered it last year.

“I wanted some­thing else to learn, and I thought it would be pretty cool,” he said.

Freas said he and his wife at­tended a meet­ing of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­ern Mary­land Bee­keep­ers in May, where he met Greg Carey, an ex­pe­ri­enced bee­keeper, who in­vited Freas and his fam­ily to come see his hives.

“I was pretty much sold af­ter he gave us some honey from last year,” Freas said.

Carey “loaned” the Freas fam­ily two of his hives, as well as some bee­keep­ing gear.

“I’ll work the bees through the sum­mer and then the win­ter. Hope­fully they’ll sur­vive and then next spring, hope­fully we won’t have a rainy May, and we can get some honey,” Freas said. “I don’t know if I would say I’m a suc­cess­ful bee­keeper, but my bees aren’t dead.”

He said he has been read­ing books on bee­keep­ing and watch­ing videos, but work­ing with an ac­tual hive is more chal­leng­ing.

“It’s still a lit­tle un­nerv­ing when you’re stand­ing in a hive with 10,000 bees,” Freas said.

He said there have been a num­ber of chal­lenges he didn’t ex­pect.

“One of the hives, the queen wasn’t lay­ing. We couldn’t find the queen, and there was no brood, no ba­bies in the hive,” Freas said. “So we took a frame of baby bees, a brood, from the first hive, brushed all the bees off, and put it in the sec­ond hive.”

He said that if there is no queen, the work­ers will grow lar­vae into queen bees, by feed­ing them royal jelly.

“Bees are pretty fas­ci­nat­ing. Most peo­ple — I’d say pretty much any­body who doesn’t ei­ther gar­den or work bees — have no clue how those lit­tle guys, or gals, work from sunup to sun­set, and they lit­er­ally work them­selves to death,” Freas said. “Learn­ing the science be­hind what goes on in a hive and how they com­mu­ni­cate, it’s re­ally cool.”

Worker bees, like the egg-lay­ing queen bees, are all fe­male. The male bees, or drones, serve no pur­pose in the hive other than to mate with the queen.

“In the fall, they’re all ei­ther killed or es­corted out of the hive, and die,” Freas said.

He said the bees have been great for his gar­den.

“I’ve seen a cou­ple hon­ey­bees — they could be ours, they could be from some­where else — but I’ve seen sev­eral bees on our pep­per plants, and they seem to be do­ing pretty good,” Freas said.

Be­yond honey, he said the bees bring a value to his house­hold just by be­ing there.

“I go out there ev­ery day af­ter work, and sev­eral times on the week­end,

and just stand there and watch the bees and see what they’re do­ing.”

Freas said that when he started, he went out and pur­chased leather gloves and a jacket with a veil, but he doesn’t use most of the equip­ment now.

“It pro­tects you, but it does make you clumsy,” he said. “It’s hard to grab things and if you drop a frame of bees, it tends to make them un­happy. So I stopped wear­ing the gloves, I think I wore them maybe once or twice. I’ve been stung just twice. So far.” She just wings it For Vic­to­ria Fal­con of Lex­ing­ton Park, there’s no ques­tion of whether or not to suit up when she checks her bee­hives.

“I suit up head to toe, be­cause I’m al­ler­gic to bees,” Fal­con said one Sat­ur­day morn­ing as she pre­pared to ex­tract honey from frames. “I’m not ana­phy­lac­tic, but I swell up like a grape­fruit if I get stung. I know these guys who have been in it for years and years and years say, ‘The more you get stung, the less al­ler­gic you are,’ but I’d rather get stung two or three times a year than 50 times a year.”

Fal­con said she feels more con­fi­dent work­ing around the bees when she is fully suited up.

“It’s hot, they’re cranky, they’re crowded, they re­act to the weather like we do, so they’re not happy to see us,” she said.

Given her al­lergy, one might won­der why Fal­con be­came in­volved in bee­keep­ing. To an­swer that ques­tion, Fal­con pointed to her son, Micah. She said that when Micah was 12, he de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in hon­ey­bees.

“When we moved down here, he said, ‘Can we have some bees?’” Fal­con re­called. “For a 12-yearold to be so in­ter­ested in bees we thought was great, so we said, ‘sure.’”

She said that af­ter three or four years, Micah lost in­ter­est.

“He was in high school, he started get­ting in­ter­ested in cars. He didn’t have a lot of luck” with bee­keep­ing, she said. “New bee­keep­ers have a lot of is­sues, and he ran into some of those is­sues, and he got frus­trated. So he kind of gave up.”

Fal­con said they went for a year with­out bees, but she found she missed hav­ing them around.

“We’d also in­vested in all this equip­ment, so I thought, I’ll try it,” she said.

Fal­con said her first year was a chal­lenge.

“I had about ev­ery prob­lem you can imag­ine,” she said. “I had lay­ing work­ers, I had swarms, gosh, I had all sorts of is­sues. What I didn’t have was honey.”

She said she learned of classes of­fered through the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­ern Mary­land Bee­keep­ers and de­cided to take one.

“I learned a lot, but I found that the more I learn about bees, the more there is to learn,” Fal­con said.

She is now in her fifth year of bee­keep­ing. This spring, how­ever, she dis­cov­ered she lost both of her hives, most likely due to bee­tle in­fes­ta­tion, she sus­pects, and had to start over.

Fal­con now main­tains three hives, which she said is the op­ti­mal num­ber for her.

“I don’t ever want more than three,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of work, in a hot suit in a hot time of year. And if you don’t do the work, they die. You re­ally have to be com­mit­ted to tak­ing care of your bees. You can’t just have bees, you re­ally have to keep bees.”

Fal­con said that bee hives need to be in­spected weekly from spring to fall.

“You need to make sure the queens are vi­able, to make sure you’ve got brood com­ing, to make sure they have stores, to make sure they’re not ready to swarm,” she said. “There are so many things. The more I learn, the more I find out what I don’t know.”

Fal­con said some bee­keep­ers keep very metic­u­lous notes and mea­sure­ments of their hives, but not her.

“I just wing it, and there’s noth­ing wrong with that, be­cause that’s just one of the many dif­fer­ent styles of the hobby,” she said. He’s the ‘bee whis­perer’ In ru­ral In­dian Head, Ste­fano Briguglio and his part­ners Josh Calo and Kypri­ana Daniels op­er­ate what Briguglio said is the only com­mer­cial bee­keep­ing and re­moval ser­vice in South­ern Mary­land, Azure B Api­aries.

“We’re all pas­sion­ate about what we do, and we’d like to work for our­selves, and do some­thing a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent,” Briguglio said.

Briguglio worked in ve­teri­nary prac­tice, but also had an in­ter­est in or­ganic agri­cul­ture.

“Bee­keep­ing is kind of in line with both of those,” Briguglio said.

He said he started around 2003 as a hob­by­ist with one hive.

“One turned into three, three turned into five,” he said. “I was learn­ing the en­tire time, learn­ing how to keep bees alive.”

Briguglio founded Azure B Api­aries about seven years ago to turn his hobby into a busi­ness.

With more than 40 hives, the fo­cus at Azure B Api­aries is not on honey pro­duc­tion so much as it is on hon­ey­bee colony re­moval, both res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial, pol­li­na­tion ser­vices, colony in­spec­tions, bee sales, equip­ment sales and ed­u­ca­tion.

While they do pro­duce honey from the hives, most of it is for per­sonal use rather than for sale.

“Here and there, we will re­tail honey,” Briguglio said. “But pri­mar­ily, we want to har­vest honey and not pay for honey, and sus­tain our­selves with our crop. If we have a sur­plus, we will sell honey … but it’s not our fo­cus.”

In ad­di­tion to honey it­self, they also use honey to make tinc­tures, fer­mented tea and mead, Calo said.

Beeswax is also a useful byprod­uct of the hives, Briguglio said. “It takes 8 pounds of honey to make 1 pound of beeswax,” Briguglio said.

The fo­cus for Azure B Api­aries is on or­ganic, chem­i­cal-free bee­keep­ing.

“We try to take as much of a hands-off ap­proach as pos­si­ble,” Briguglio said. “We do sup­ple­ment, feed them as needed, but we try to give them ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to take care of them­selves. We want bees that are hardy and able to thrive unas­sisted. That’s huge for us.”

Calo said they use a “nat­u­ral, re­spect­ful bee­keep­ing model. We don’t want to say our sys­tem, what we’re do­ing, is the gold stan­dard, but it works for us,” he said.

“We want to help peo­ple be suc­cess­ful in bee­keep­ing,” Briguglio said. “We want peo­ple to be happy and en­joy their bee­keep­ing.”

Briguglio said they will come out and do colony in­spec­tions for bee­keep­ers. “We come and do on­site men­tor­ing,” he said. “We’ll look through your hive and make rec­om­men­da­tions. A lot of time we can tell a lot about the health, the strength of the hive just by do­ing ob­ser­va­tions.”

Calo and then Daniels be­came in­volved with bee­keep­ing two years ago. Calo said he be­gan de­vel­op­ing an in­ter­est in keep­ing bees nat­u­rally, but didn’t know where to be­gin.

“I tracked down Ste­fano who was of­fer­ing these classes. He was bare­foot, deep in a hive, with bees fly­ing ev­ery­where, and I thought, ‘That’s the guy I want to learn how to keep bees from,’” Calo said.

Calo learned bee­keep­ing from Briguglio and de­scribes Briguglio as the “bee whis­perer.”

Daniels said she has long had an in­ter­est in bees.

“I would read books on bees, not just the en­vi­ron­men­tal stuff, but the phi­los­o­phy of how the hive is run, the queen, it’s al­most like a so­cial struc­ture and how in­ter­con­nected they are,” Daniels said. “Af­ter I saw them [Calo and Briguglio] in the bee hive, I wanted to be in­volved.”

Calo said they want to ex­pand Azure B Api­aries, but in a way that re­tains the busi­ness’ fo­cus on sus­tain­abil­ity and the en­vi­ron­ment.

“If we’re go­ing to do some­thing that gen­er­ates rev­enue, let’s do it in a way that has a sys­temic im­pact pos­i­tively on the en­vi­ron­ment, and do­ing some­thing that we en­joy and are pas­sion­ate about,” Calo said.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Above, Jerry Wor­rell of Dunkirk uses a smoker, a de­vice filled with burn­ing pa­per, which blows smoke to help pacify the bees while he checks on one of his hives. Be­low, Vic­to­ria Fal­con of Lex­ing­ton Park slices the caps off hon­ey­combs from her bee­hives in prepa­ra­tion for honey ex­trac­tion.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Ste­fano Briguglio of Azure B Api­aries in In­dian Head ex­am­ines one of his hives.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Bees are busy at work in one of Dunkirk bee­keeper Jerry Wor­rell’s hives.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Micah Fal­con of Lex­ing­ton Park churns the honey ex­trac­tor.

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