Farmer Q & A: Bee Farmer
From the Farmer's Tractor
May 29, 2007
Joyce Sammons, 50, raises honeybees in New Melle, Missouri, and has been doing so for 20 years. Sammons sells her honey at Wind Ridge Farm, where her bees pollinate the blueberries that grow there. Joyce and her husband Douglas have seven children ranging in age from 11 to 25, and 20 honeybee hives.
How have your bee practices changed since you first started?
There are many more diseases now than there were 20 years ago. It used to be much easier for anyone who wanted to farm bees to do so. Now there are the tracheal and varroa mites, which are tremendously difficult to destroy because they are really adept at becoming resistant to any type of treatment. In late summer I need to treat my hives for both types of mites or the hives will be weak or dead in the spring.
How will bee farming evolve in the next five years?
I am afraid that it will not be profitable for the larger beekeepers and consequently, there will be fewer honey bees and beekeepers. Hopefully, there will be less use of hard chemicals. One less toxic method for varroa control is to put a frame of drone cells in the hive because mites are particularly attracted to drone cells. After about two weeks, you can remove the drone frame and freeze it, killing the mites. Also, in the next five years, genetics will play a bigger role. Breeding the better bee has become important. In Europe, they have almost completely controlled the tracheal mite with breeding. The varroa mite will be next.
What is your greatest challenge as a bee farmer?
The varroa mite. Definitely. Its scientific name, Varroa destructor, says it all.
What steps are you taking toward bee sustainability?
Right now I'm reading as much as I can about CCD, trying to stay informed. CCD hasn't affected my hives so far, but I want to be ready just in case. I'm working to keep my bees as healthy as I can, and trying not to use hard chemicals when I can avoid them.
What is the process of selling your honey locally?
I sell my honey at the Wind Ridge Farm, which is within a mile "as the bee flies" of where I live. My bees pollinate the blueberries on this farm - a very important task because blueberry size is extremely dependent on pollination. My honey comes mostly from tall white and yellow sweet clover. Currently, my bees are happy and active collecting nectar from the yellow sweet clover. It's a good time of year. The honey flow is on.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
They are curious, and a lot of people want to learn how to do it. There's a little bit of a dangerous allure to it, a daring if you will. When you suit up and handle the bees, and they are crawling on your ankles and hands, there is a bit of excitement to it, and it's a lot of fun. People are interested in experiencing that. Some tell me our honey is the best honey they've ever had. We attribute this to the fact we do not heat our honey in the processing and that retains the flavors and aromas from the flowers. We think it's more natural and healthier this way.