By Deb Everts
Business is buzzing at the Maple Glen Sugar House.
Maple Glen Apiaries has been added to the business, providing raw, unfiltered honey that goes right along with its line of maple products.
The apiaries are the project of Paul Lesefske and Sue Martin who are doing the business together. Lesefske said he started the apiaries because of his interest in the bees and the honey, as well as to bring an awareness to other people about the importance of the bee population.
He said bees and other pollinators are responsible for about one-third of the world’s food, so that’s a huge impact.
Lesefske said they started out with 25 colonies last year and went into the winter with 31, but are now at 60-plus hives, or colonies.
“A colony, or beehive, is what’s in one of those boxes,” he explained. “We refer to a colony as one queen with her bees. In a good, strong colony, there are 50,000 to 60,000 bees in there with her. Although the queen is much larger than the rest of the bees, we have marked her in red to make her easier to find.”
According to Lesefske, the bees of each hive know which hive to go to based on the pheromone, or scent, the queen gives off. He said they can also identify their hive by the color configuration of the outside, helping them better distinguish which one to go in, but it’s not necessary.
USING A bee smoker, Lesefske created smoke to calm the bees so he could enter a hive. He said the smoke masks their alarm pheromone, which is a scent they release when they sting to alert nearby bees.
“The bees that we bought this year are Carniolans, a European bee,” he said. “These last 40 nucs” — nucleus colonies created from larger colonies — “were all local New York bees that overwintered here. We wanted to go that route to see if it makes a difference for these bees to survive our winters. Getting the bees acclimated to this area is one more thing we can do to help ensure their survival.”
In addition to the climate, Lesefske said bees are decimated by diseases including varroa mites that are one of the big culprits in the decline of bees. He said it’s everywhere, not just in the United States.
“There are treatments available and they are necessary to help control the varroa mites, but the disease has been going on since the ‘90s and there’s still no 100 percent cure,” he explained. “Besides the mites, we have a lot of pesticides being sprayed — whether it’s for agriculture or homeowners spraying their lawns and plants. Bees will bring it back to the colony and infect the entire hive, so that’s an issue as well.”
According to Natural Resources Defense Council, a condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder is causing bee populations to plummet, which means crops pollinated by bees are also at risk. In the United States alone, more than 25-percent of the managed honey bee population has disappeared since 1990.
Lesefske said he can split hives to make more colonies. He pointed out a tower of boxes containing a hive that he split three times this year.
“Two splits means I take two to three frames of bees and brood” — eggs, larvae and pupae — “and set it in another box with a new queen. I start a whole new colony by doing that,” he said. “The bees that are on those frames with the brood are typically nurse bees that can’t fly, so you want to take at least another frame or two of worker bees that are going to go out and forage to bring pollen and nectar in.”
According to Lesefske, a queen will live three to four years and be productive during those years. She’ll lay 1,500 to 2,000 eggs a day and, in two to three years, she’ll start to slow down in production.
“When the queen gets too old, the bees will either kill her off or she will swarm, take half of them with her and go somewhere else,” he said. “The bees left in the box will supersede her and actually raise their own queen. It’s based on what they feed that queen cell. It’s called royal jelly.”
Lesefske said it takes 16 days for a queen bee to hatch, 21 days for a worker bee and 24 days for drones to hatch. Worker bees live only 60 to 70 days, then they die.
ACCORDING TO Lesefske, honey bees are not native to North America. They were brought in by settlers from Europe in the early 1600s.
Martin said honey never spoils, as long as the container sealed. She said a person could actually eat honey a thousand years from now and it wouldn’t hurt them. According to Smithsonian Magazine, archeologists have found pots of honey thousands of years old in ancient Egyptian tombs that was still preserved.
“The bees know when the moisture content is right and just when to seal the honey,” Lesefske said. “The unique thing about honey is, when it’s capped, the moisture content falls within a specific range that doesn’t allow fermentation to happen. If it does happen, it’s because the moisture content is too high.”
By bringing hives in, Lesefske and Martin are trying to contribute to the bee population, but they are also trying to bring an awareness of the plight of the honey bee with their “Adopt-A-Hive” program.
Lesefske said people who sign up get a certificate with their name on it saying they own a particular hive. Twice a year, they send the participants honey that has been extracted from the honeycomb in the hive. It’s all bottled and ready for consumption. Lesefske and Martin maintain the hives.
“It’s a nice educational experience for families, especially for kids,” Lesefske said. “Most people haven’t seen the inside of a bee colony. That’s why I put an observation hive behind glass in the store, so they can see a colony in its various stages and see the bees at work.”