Last month at the Kerr Center, Jeff Asbury led a free workshop on beekeeping. In addition to sharing his knowledge as an instructor at that event, Mr. Asbury has recently begun keeping honey bee hives on the Kerr Center ranch.
Mr. Asbury has plenty of knowledge to share. The Le Flore resident has piled up half a century of experience. He ran 4,000 hives in California for a number of years before working in the queen industry for a couple of years. After moving to Oklahoma about 11 years ago, he ran 700 hives, working them from here to North Dakota. He has worked with several bee clubs, has extensive knowledge of pollination, and has worked with U.C. Davis entomologist Eric Mussen.
Ramping up the number of people who know their way around honeybees is more important now than ever. In earlier years, winter losses of honeybee colonies averaged around 20% or less. When the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder exploded onto the scene in 2006, that situation changed. Over the past decade, the winter colony loss rate has averaged nearly 40%.
Native pollinators can step up to cover some of the decline in honeybee numbers, and the Kerr Center works actively on that side of the problem. However, getting more hobby and small-scale commercial beekeepers into the action is another important angle.
The total value of U.S. crop production that depends solely on honeybee pollination has been estimated at more than $15 billion, and honeybees play at least some role in the pollination of 3 out of 4 crop species worldwide. Commercial farmers pay on the order of a billion dollars each year for honeybees’ pollination services. Without them, at least seven of the nation’s 60 top-selling crops would simply cease to be economically viable.
Of course, the pollination aspects don’t have to be the main motivation for beginning beekeepers. There’s a real satisfaction in eating honey from your own hives – and it sells well. For many beekeepers, the fascination of working with these intriguing insects alone is reward enough.
To learn more about honeybee populations and colony collapse disorder, visit the Bee Informed Partnership website. For an overview of beekeeping, ATTRA’s free electronic publications Beekeeping/Apiculture and “Beekeeping: Considerations for the Ecological Beekeeper” are good places to start.
Potential beginning beekeepers may be interested in taking a class from a local club. In northeastern Oklahoma, the Northeast Oklahoma Beekeepers Association (NEOBA) offers a fall class. It meets on three Saturdays in a row for four hours each time, at the end of October/beginning of November. The Central Oklahoma Beekeepers Association (COBA) also runs Saturday classes, with the next series scheduled for January 2019. For other areas of the state, check out the listing of local clubs on the Oklahoma State Beekeepers Association webpage.