Dean Burroughs knows what happened to the bees. He knows because he’s a third generation beekeeper, and an Apiary Inspector for Maryland.
One of the benefits of working up at the Greenbranch Market is that I get to meet people like this and ask them a bunch of questions. Dean came by the other day with the first batch of this year’s honey. And of course before I could even finish forming my first question, Dean replied, “Yes, yes, I know what you’re going go ask. Yes, it’s raw. It’s strained, but not filtered and not heated. I get that question from all my clients.”
Raw, strained honey still has microscopic bits of pollen and even a little bit of honeycomb particles floating around, even though it looks clear. And enzymes and minerals and amino acids. Only raw honey has stuff that is good for us, and has been used throughout the world and for millennia to treat everything from burns and ulcers to allergies and coughs. But if it’s heated and filtered like most of the commercial stuff in the supermarket, we lose.
Some people, of course want to go a step farther. They want it straight out of the hive. “I have a couple of customers who don’t think my honey is raw enough for them. They want to see the honeycomb and bits of bee wings in it. Then they’ll buy it. But it’s the same product, the strainer just takes the big debris out, that’s all,” Dean explained.
I asked Dean if I could tag along some day and learn more about beekeeping, as I have half a mind to keep some bees of my own one day, what with my latest garden tomato plantings yielding nothing but flowers that eventually dry up and fall off.
“Well, not just now, I’m too busy to have anyone come with me these days, too much work to do to even talk while working. But maybe in the fall.” He then went on to say that he does “Open hive” demonstrations sometimes at Pemberton Park, where he winters some of his hives, and, as a Master Beekeeper, teaches classes on occasion.
Okay, next question. “So, is beekeeping hard? It sounds hard.”
“Well, I grew up with both my grandfather and my father keeping bees, and there wasn’t much to it back then. They just kept some hives out back, and a couple times a year went back and got some honey out of them. Now, you’ve got to do a lot more to keep your bees.”
“Why, because of regulations or something?” I ask.
“No, because you’ve got to work to keep your bees healthy. You’ve got the Varroa Mite, pesticides, lots of things that are keeping the bee populations down.” Dean answered.
“Wait, so you’re saying you know what’s behind our disappearing bee population?”
Dean chuckled. “Yeah, it’s not a big mystery to me. That whole thing makes for good headlines, so the media keeps it going, and all these researchers get big grants to try to figure it out, that’s all. See, it’s a combination of things, not just one big answer. First, it’s the varroa mite. It’s an arachnid, and they ride on the bees, and bite into the exoskeleton, and they don’t kill them or anything themselves, but they transmit a virus that does. Then another factor is lack of habitat. And of course all the pesticides. Now, we’re dealing with a fungicide that seems to affect the bees too,” he explained.
“Yep, If everyone had an organic farm, we’d be in better shape,” declared Dean, 3rd Generation Master Beekeeper and Apiary Inspector for the fine state of Maryland.
Okay, it just so happened that Farmer Ted had joined the conversation at that point, and had a check in hand for Beekeeper Dean. But I still think he was speaking the truth for truth’s sake.
So when you buy local and organic, you’re not just helping the environment, your family’s health, and the happy hardworking proletariat masses, not to mention the farm animals who enjoy eating grass out in the open, you are in fact helping to save the humble bees!
Caveat: The next time your annoying politically active neighbor wants to sign you up for the latest cause, you can proudly declare that you are already, in fact, a bee activist!