Bee Buzz

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

By now, everyone has heard that honeybees are much in the news all around the planet since the first reports of commercial hive losses began in 2006. These large hives are trucked cross country to pollinate such crops as almonds which are almost completely dependent on them for successful crop production. Indeed, the problem has become so serious that almond breeders are working to develop self-pollinating varieties. More than 90% of everything in the average person’s diet depends on insect pollination, either to produce the edible itself or the seed that grows the next generation. While bee-keeping has never been without routine threats and serious challenges, this problem has defied every effort to name and thus control it. The good news for honey lovers is that local honey production in MS continues strong as it does in most places.

One Mississippi family was inspired to do more to insure that honeybees are plentiful for years to come. Mississippi Bees is the brainchild of Frank and Tammie Garletts, run by the couple with help from their daughters, Julia and Frances, or ‘Frankie’. Their adventure into beekeeping started with a desire to do something local to address the global problem of bee losses. Garletts says “Bees are part of the revival of back-to-nature. Bees are so amazing, and once people get over the fear of being stung, they want keep bees.” Welcome expertise and assistance came from the MS Department of Agriculture and the Central MS Beekeepers Association and before long, the Garletts began to reach beyond honey. You’ll find these homegrown entrepreneurs at festivals, events, farmer’s markets and online at mississippibees.com. Now a full line of products carries the MS Bees logo, including candles, lip balm, creamed honey, flavored honey (delicious in tea), honey skin lotion and honey soap.

Garletts is active in the Central MS Beekeepers Association and a busy bee rescuer. He says, “We just had a class at the Ag Museum and people are so interested in bees. People are more into gardening now and they want a hive because they’ve heard it’s good to have them around to pollinate.” Garletts is the contact person for the Central MS Beekeepers Association and welcomes calls about beekeeping at 601-942-2362.

It’s amazing to me that people in every strata of society have taken up beekeeping. Community gardens in inner city urban areas make room for some hives and the White House garden has a professional beekeeper. Even the Charlotte, NC, Ritz-Carleton has 2 hives in its rooftop kitchen garden. 18 stories above the street, bees buzz around 18,000 sedum plants that also work to conserve energy at this very green hotel. Scientists in Switzerland and Germany recently announced their use of Diagnostic Radioentomology to see 3D images of a live honeybee colony. Such advances are regularly reported as efforts increase to understand bees and the threats to them.

            Beehives are fascinating places, the ultimate in close-quarter community living. And yet, the beekeeper is most often a singular person, caring for thousands of insects alone. One such beekeeper is Susan Brackney of Bloomington, IN, author of Plan Bee: everything you ever wanted to know about the hardest working creatures on the planet.

Brackney bought her house so she could raise chickens, but after the city annexed the property, her focus changed to honeybees. She says, “I had mentioned that I wanted to raise bees, and a friend found a complete setup at a garage sale. He bought it all and asked only for ‘honey for life.” She complied and in her engaging way, tells how it affected her in a footnote: “I am still pleasantly surprised that, in this age of divorce, a newly married beekeeper would sell all his gear (because the bride was allergic to bees) rather than put it in storage just in case the marriage should fail.”

            Plan Bee is a book meant for adults that should be on the young adult reading list, too, for its combination of solid science and life experience told in first person. Brackney explains hive life better than any academic text and joyfully reports on research into centuries of the craft. Her description of honeybee drones will make you laugh out loud. And who knew that the timely disturbance of beehives kept the British at bay in time for reinforces to reach the Colonial Army? (Plan Bee was released in paperback in May 2010 published by the Penguin Group, a Perigee Book, $13.95, www.penguin.com.)

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