‘Bee’ knowledgeable

Book reading held by Superior Beekeeping Club educates, informs area residents on beekeeping essentials and complexities

Wicwas Press publisher and author Lawrence Connor, Ph.D., holds a Wicwas Press book entitled “Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping.” Connor read from his new book, “Keeping Bees Alive” during a book reading held by the Superior Beekeeping Club Tuesday night. Connor emphasized that education is essential for new and experienced beekeepers, as it can help their colonies thrive and minimize losses. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — Bees are essential pollinators for our food chain, pollinating around $15 billion in crops annually in the United States. However, from April 2018 to April of this year, U.S. beekeepers lost over 40% of their honey bee colonies, suffering the heaviest winter losses observed since the annual nationwide Bee Informed Partnership survey led by the University of Maryland which began 13 years ago.

With changes to the city of Marquette’s land development code, city residents now have a chance to help expand the bee population by starting a beekeeping operation in their own backyard. But to keep those colonies alive, it’s essential for beginners and experienced beekeepers to learn about the complexities of bee biology.

A book reading hosted by the Superior Beekeeping Club Tuesday at the Lost Creek Community Center gave attendees — including new and seasoned beekeepers, those who were interested in starting the practice and individuals who just wanted to learn more — a chance to learn from an expert on the topic.

Those in attendance heard from Wicwas Press Publisher and Author Lawrence Connor, Ph.D., who has been writing about, researching and keeping bees for decades.

Connor read from his new book “Keeping Bees Alive,” along with several other titles, giving attendees a chance to learn about a variety of beekeeping topics, ask questions, get their books signed and browse a selection of Wicwas Press publications, which include recipes, guides for beginning to advanced beekeepers, books on bee biology, beekeeping history books and more.

Attendees gather around Connor, center, to get their newly purchased books signed by the author. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

Connnor emphasized that the worst thing a new beekeeper can do is to not get advice — or get advice from an unreliable source.

“The scary fact is that only a low percentage of potential and new active beekeepers belong to a bee club, read a national beekeeping magazine, attend a university extension course or do anything to obtain essential information to keep their bees alive,” Connor said. “A surprising number of beekeepers — first-timers and multiyear beekeepers — are known only to the person who sells them their packaged bees. That’s their only contact with anybody with any knowledge about beekeeping. The beekeepers often receive little or no training. And I think this is unacceptable.”

Education is absolutely critical for beekeepers at all levels, but especially beginners, he said, as a wide range of essential and complex knowledge about bees is required for successful beekeeping.

“Beekeeper ignorance about bee biology kills a lot of colonies,” Connor said. “Beekeepers must understand that there are many subtleties in beekeeping, from recognizing the nature of problems to effectively determining the course of action needed to minimize colony loss. Simple management practices like feeding new packaged bees are things new beekeepers should understand before they purchase that first colony.”

It’s important for beekeepers to ensure they are capable of supporting their bees and that their “bees have enough forage to manage environmental challenges,” Connor said, as nearly 40% of U.S. colonies were lost between April 2018 and April of this year, which he credits to a multitude of factors, including a lack of crop diversity and use of pesticides.

“This last year, we had our heaviest losses since they started the survey,” he said. “So it’s really daunting when you think about what’s going on, what we have to face as an industry.”

An important, and often overlooked practice, Connor said, is using locally sourced bees as opposed to bees purchased from other locations, as “the colony is going to be better adapted to local conditions” if the queens and drones are local. Using local bees can also help reduce the need for expensive and fossil-fuel heavy shipping of bees, he said.

One way beekeepers can support local bees and help others do so, he said, is to create more hives from their existing hives, noting that every bee keeper is encouraged to do so with each hive, each year.

“The goal is to grow the number and size of colonies for maximum productivity when it is most advantageous to both the bees and the beekeeper,” he said. “Maximizing bee populations is essential for efficient crop pollination as well as creating the optimal number of forager bees for honey production.”

Overall, Connor emphasized that education about beekeeping — whether it’s through a class, a book or a local beekeeping club — is essential for beginners and even those who have been keeping bees for decades, as a little knowledge can make all the difference in keeping bees alive.

For more information on the Superior Beekeeping Club, events and how to join, visit the club’s Facebook page or visit the website at superiorbeekeeping.weebly.com.

For more information on Wicwas Press, visit http://wicwas.com.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.