Give the honeybee the glory it deserves!
by Paula Dardaris — Sussex County VP
Indeed, we who have chosen to live in Delaware are blessed by the bounty of a beautiful and varied landscape. Prolific production of pumpkins, watermelons, lima beans and ‘pickles’ has made us prideful — and rightfully so! But one frequently overlooked, tiny entity; an agricultural agent integral to the profusion of produce and personal property prettiness is Apis mellifera, commonly known as the honeybee.
The small state of Delaware boasts 140 beekeepers who are active members of the Delaware Beekeepers Association. Currently serving as Secretary of Agriculture is Ed Kee, a man who knows his vegetables and is, thankfully, a high profile advocate for the currently beleaguered beekeeper. Kee is painfully aware of the importance of the pollination services rendered by honeybees and other native pollinators in regard to increased crop yields.
At our annual Open Hive event held this past year at Coleman’s Christmas Tree Farm in Odessa, Kee explained that in Delaware, we don’t grow pickles, we grow ‘cukes’. They aren’t pickles until Vlasic processes them and Vlasic Foods in Millsboro packs 70 million jars of pickles a year! “Each pickle begins its life as a cucumber blossom! For that blossom to be properly pollinated (for every ovary to become a seed) requires seven to 10 visits from a honeybee! Cucumbers would not happen without bees!” Kee stated emphatically.
Kee continued to impress upon the audience our dependence upon the high-flown honeybee. In Delaware and surrounding Maryland counties, approximately nine to 10 thousand acres of watermelons are planted, producing approximately 12,000 tractor-trailer loads of watermelons distributed annually to markets and stores all over the U.S. and Canada. “All of this agricultural economic activity would not be possible – would not happen,” Kee assured, “without bees!”
And Delaware also has on its payroll a State Apiarist (Beekeeper). Mr. Robert Mitchell has, for the past 25 years, inspected hives for good hygiene, innumerable diseases and the presence of the dread-instilling Africanized Honey Bee. He is, perhaps, the state's most loyal defender of the honeybee, encouraging the keeping of bees at seemingly every encounter! Honeybees are plagued by more than 80 pests and pathogens and beekeepers have unwillingly watched the numbers of their wee-winged wards diminish by as much as 70-percent in one year! Scientists have labeled this destruction 'Colony Collapse Disorder' (CCD) and its malevolent manifestation is now globally felt! Mr. Mitchell is an unsung asset in DE's arsenal against CCD.
So, the apiary aspect of our agricultural potential appears well-defended and well-realized! Farmers markets have brought a diversity of bee-related products to a wonderful "new" forum! Honey, candles, soaps and creams now represent apiaries state-wide! Honey, which appears as a by-product of forage activity, occurs in a scintillating range of flavors and colors spanning the gustatory spectrum! Bees foraging alfalfa, holly, tulip poplar and anise hyssop will deliver a unique, delicately flavored honey, while a healthy blueberry crop renders a subtly-savored berry-nuanced nectar unparalleled in the realm of sweeteners! Not unlike wine, honey's multiformity is a product of soil, sunlight, rainfall and place!
Delaware is our place in the sun! We must learn to tolerate the inconvenience of "farm stuff" — those lumbering machines delaying traffic flow — and stop to consider the benefits we all reap as a result of the support agriculture provides to peripheral industry. Citizens of Delaware unite in support of our endangered Honeybee! Visit the DBA website, handsomely designed by Tony Marro, son of DBA President Dr. Frank Marro. Help to actualize Delaware’s unrealized agricultural potential by supporting local beekeepers in their effort to steward a more beautific and, dare I say, sweeter environment for us all!