Beekeeper recounts superb year for HCT honey

By Jamie Balliett,
originally published in the Harwich Oracle (Jan. 9, 2013) & The Cape Codder (Jan. 11, 2013) —

Kevin Minnigerode said it takes a certain personality to be a beekeeper.Kevin_M_honeybees_14Jan2013_opt

“You have to be calm, patient, and observant – but most of all very careful,” said the 62-year-old from Marstons Mills who worked over the last two years as a volunteer with the Harwich Conservation Trust tending to beehives at the Bank Street Bogs.

The retired U.S. Air Force navigator who took up beekeeping in 2008 said that the two HCT hiveswere incredibly productive this past summer and fall, netting a bounty of over five gallons of honey.

“It was truly amazing to see how much there was. When my wife and I loaded it into our trunk we were just in awe,” he said.

After taking a dozen or sohalf-pint containers for himself, Minnigerodedelivered the rest ofthe honey to the Trust.

“Kevin suggested that the honey could help us raise funds for our land-saving work. We’ve raised about $700 with 70 half-pint jars of honey at $10 each and we sold out in three weeks. It was funny because he said with a chuckle that each jar should really cost more like $150 because of the amount of time and energy he’s invested,” said HCT Director MichaelLach.

When asked why the hives were so productive, Minnigerode said that there was a confluence of factors. The weather was good all summer – warm with plentiful rain,translating into lots of flowers. There were just a few storms and the bog – which includes some 66 acres of rich wetland habitat – is excellent for bees.

According to an environmental study funded by HCT, the bog itself has at least 278 different plant species – which means a lot of flowers.

“Just imagine if you have to go to the store to get your groceries and it’s a long drive away, you have to exert all that energy traveling. Here, it is just a few feet from the hive to water sources and abundant flowers so it’s easier on the hive,” he said.

Beehives across the country are suffering from a population crisis known as colony collapse disorder. Scientists have concluded that factors related to climate change, powerfulviruses, and pesticides are likely what has caused CCD. Minnigerode has seen this occur with some of his hives.

“It doesn’t take very much, just one application of pesticides in a nearby area and the whole hive can crash,” he said.

2011 was the first year HCT and Minnigerode set up three hives at the Bogs but they were not productive, mostly due to strong storms that led to an invasion of wasps.

“We couldn’t do anything – it happened fast,” he said.

To try and educate the community about the hives, Minnigerodehas led a number of ‘Honey Bee Hikes’ for the HCT through the Bogs.

“I had from two to twenty-five participants and enjoyed explaining the life of a hive and the hard work that leads to honey production,” he said.

This past summer, the bee population took off at the two remaining hives. What started as a few thousand bees in May at just one hive ended up with an estimated 70,000 bees byAugust.

“It was really good queens. The worker bees have a four to five week lifespan, in which they move from job to job until their wings finally wear out and they die, literally from exhaustion,” Minnigerode described.

Because the long drive from Marstons Mills takes so much time, Minnigerode and the HCT are working together to find a new beekeeper for the bogs this coming summer.

Lach called Minnigerode, “Super knowledgeable about bee behavior and the history of beekeeping.”

“Right now, we’re working on recruiting and training a replacement beekeeper because Kevin is ready to step aside, but he’s still available to advise. The 66-acre Harwich Port preserve works well for hive placement because we can keep them at a distance from walking trails.The side trail to the hives is roped off to avoid accidental encounters and, of course, to let the bees work undisturbed. I certainly know what “busy as a bee” means now. Hopefully, our bees will survive the winter so we can begin again in the spring,” said Lach.

Winter is the toughest time for the hive. Minnigerode said that a few thousand bees now surround the queen in a grapefruit-sized ball that’s up to 90 degrees F in the center. On warmer days, most of the bees will fly out of the hive to excrete their waste and find fresh water.

“You wouldn’t think of a honeybee flying by in the middle of January but they do. Just when the conditions are perfect,” he said.