Bundy’s Bees: A Different Kind of Agricultural Worker

3e+10. That’s the number my calculator gave me when I tried to figure out how many flowers Bill Bundy’s bees might pollenate each day.honey_bee_2

I  don’t know what 3e+10 means.

Bundy tends 100 bee hives, which are widely distributed throughout western Loudoun and eastern Clarke counties. Eight of them are here at Great Country Farms, and a dozen more are across the Shenandoah River on the Cool Spring Farm fields where we raise a lot of our vegetables. At this time of year, the population of each hive is about 60,000 bees, Bundy says, and each of them might visit as many as 5,000 flowers per day, according to the website Wonderopolis.

If you run those numbers, you get something like this: a hundred hives times sixty-thousand bees equals six million pollinators, each of which might crawl in and out of five thousand flowers a day. 
 
I had hoped to translate those numbers directly into strawberries — a number of strawberries that can only be written abstractly — but it turns out that strawberries can pollenate themselves, to some extent, because each blossom contains both male and female organs, so wind and gravity will transfer enough pollen to turn many blossoms into fruit. If you want a bumper crop, however, you need bees.
 
And some crops won’t come in at all without bees: apples, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, blueberries, raspberries, melons, pumpkins, squash, zucchini — all of those rely on insect pollinators, the most effective of which is the honey bee.
Bundy came to bee-keeping via the mechanism that leads many married men to their vocation: his wife. She wanted to

honey bees

Bundy checks bees at Great Country Farms.

raise sheep and make yarn, so in 1996 they bought a small farm in what was then still rural Loudoun County. The farm next door, it so happened, was managed by a guy named Billy Davis, who was one of the founders of theLoudoun Beekeepers Association, which offers bee-keeping courses and a wealth of information about every aspect of the craft.

“He convinced my wife to attend one of his classes,” Bundy said, “and she dragged me along. Before long, she dropped out, and here I am almost twenty years later with a hundred hives. I teach that class now.”

The class meets two hours a week for six weeks, and it covers essential information for novices, including equipment, woodenware, bee biology, seasonality, plants, nectar sources, pests, and diseases that might effect a colony of bees.

Bee diseases have been in the news a lot lately because a phenomenon calledColony Collapse Disorder has destroyed some ten million hives in the past six years, eighty to ninety percent of the wild bee population in America, by some estimates. In a report released a year ago, the United States Department of Agriculture asserted that, “currently, the survivorship of honey bee colonies is too low for us to be confident in our ability to meet the pollination demands of US agricultural crops.”

That’s an alarming statement.

bee colony collapseTodd Woody, writing for the website Quartz.com, reports that sixty percent of the honeybees alive in America today have to be trucked to California’s Central Valley to pollenate just one crop, almonds, which don’t produce at all without the help of bees.
The problem seems to be that flowers are absorbing fungicides, pesticides, and other chemicals, and they’re passing them on to the bees that eat the flowers’ nectar and feed the flowers’ pollen to their young. Those chemicals in turn seem to weaken a bee’s resistance to a parasite called nosema ceranae, which can decimate entire hives of bees with compromised immunities.
Bundy thinks the media hyperbolizes the problem by coining terms like “Beemageddon,” or “Bee Apocalypse Now,” and by writing headlines like “Scientists Discover What’s Killing Bees and it’s Worse Than You Thought.”
Maybe so.
Bundy’s response to the problem isn’t hyperbolic, it’s holistic: he initiates fifty to sixty people every year into the fellowship of bee husbandry, and he creates twenty-five to thirty new bee colonies every year and sells them to new keepers, many of whom maintain their hives in this region.
He also produces up to two tons of honey every year, some of which we sell in the farm store. On Saturday, May 17, Bundy will bring a honey extractor to the store and show us how that process works. Come and see.

 

 

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