Keeping bees on Long Island since 1949.

President’s Message: Reaching Out, Part 1

By George B. Schramm, LIBC President

Autumn is a busy season for the Club and its volunteers. Within the past few weeks our Outreach Director, Marianne Sangesland, has been coordinating the Club’s educational displays at the Second Annual NYC Honey Festival in Rockaway, the Long Island Fair at Old Bethpage, the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center Fall Wildlife Festival at Jones Beach, and the Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park Fall Garden and Harvest Festival in Oakdale. At each of these events our Bee Club Ambassadors participate by setting up a table with information about the Club, honeybees and beekeeping, samples of our tools and equipment, and an observation hive in order to promote the benefits of bees and beekeeping. Since one of the goals of the Club is to educate not just beekeepers, but also the general public, these events present a great opportunity to fulfill that mission.

I try to participate in as many of these events as possible, and inevitably the most frequent question I get asked by non-beekeepers who stop to see our display is, “why do you keep honeybees?” (Actually, it’s usually phrased more like, “why in the world would you want to keep bees?!”) I’m sure it’s a question we all get asked now and then, but as longtime craftspeople already involved in the craft of beekeeping we’ve already thought about and incorporated into our passion the reasons for doing what we do, and unless someone asks us why, we probably don’t articulate our motivation that frequently. So, why do we keep honeybees?

The answer lays with the bees themselves and their amazing ability to provide irreplaceable products and services.

Chief among those services would be pollination. The honeybee accounts for 80 percent of all pollination done by insects and without the honeybee's pollination services more than a third of the fruits and vegetables that humans consume would not exist in sufficient quantities. Pollination by honeybees is not just important to commercial plantings, like apples and almonds, but it is also essential for fruits and vegetables found in backyard gardens, like cucumbers, squash, melons, and strawberries. A hive in the garden can be the difference between success and disappointment for a local gardener.

The two noteworthy products that wouldn’t exist without the honeybee would be honey and beeswax. The ability to harvest and share honey is probably the most influential aspect in the decision to become a beekeeper. Local honey is an unbeatable and delicious natural sweeter that has subtle, and occasionally not so subtle, variances of flavor that are dependent on the floral sources available to the bees; there is nothing more accurate to express the “local flavor” of the indigenous environment than the local honey.

Fortunately, evolution has not only produced an insect that can convert nectar into honey, but has also created a harvestable method by which honeybees can store that honey. Honeybees have wax-producing glands on the underside of their abdomens and they can manipulate this wax to create combs of hexagonal cells that can be used to store nectar, pollen, and to raise new bees. Because beeswax has a high melting point (144 to 147 degrees F), it makes for excellent candles that have a "warmer" colored flame and very little visible smoke. Beeswax can also be used in natural soaps, lotions, and cosmetics such as lip balm, and as a superior wood polish.

Of course the list of beneficial services and products provided by honeybees can be expanded even further, but if this brief description was enough to get you excited about sharing your passion for bees and beekeeping then we need you as a Bee Club Ambassador. At the events the Club attends you get to share those amazing stories about your life among the bees with the public, and in the process help promote our organization. There is nothing like the look on the face of a non-beekeeper as you thrillingly describe how you boldly thrust your bare hands into a box filled with thousands of stinging insects to wrestle away their highly coveted liquid gold (or words to that effect).

Next month, in Part 2 of this article, I will be writing about how important the Club’s outreach program is in combating one of the chief threats to beekeeping: ignorance.