As a beekeeper and researcher, it'd be easy for Jennifer Berry of Honey Pond Farm to be pessimistic in the face of varroa mites, environmental degradation, and Colony Collapse Disorder; in fact she is just the opposite.
But her optimism doesn't depend on just luck. She and many others are working hard to figure out the best ways to ensure that the future is bright for honey bees and for us!
Briefly describe your operation. Honey Pond Farm is a small honey bee operation which specializes in rearing quality queens and 5-frame nucleus colonies. Since the beginning it has been our goal to raise bees in the most natural and healthy environment possible. I have 6 apiaries scattered around Comer, Georgia in Madison and Oglethorpe counties.
What are your markets? I do sell nucleus colonies on a small scale to backyard beekeepers. (I don't sell honey or individual queens).
Does anyone else help? Bob Luckey has helped with the business for years now.
Do you have any other jobs? My day job is Research Coordinator and Lab Manager for the University of Georgia Honey Bee Lab.
Why did you get involved with CNG? I became involved with CNG because I believe in raising healthy bees along with supporting and organization that encourages others to do the same.
How did you get into beekeeping? I've been keeping bees for 15 years. It started when I was in grad school at UGA. My soon-to-be major professor was teaching a beekeeping course and it took about 5 minutes for me to realize that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. Also, farming and working outside has always appealed to me; so becoming a beekeeper was no big stretch.
Talk about the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as a beekeeper. As a beekeeper and researcher, the mite, Varroa destructor, has been by far the hardest challenge to deal with. Varroa mites are a destructive ecto-parasite that if left unmanaged, can kill a colony. Finding what controls them has taken time, effort and an understanding of the mite/bee relationship. It has also been difficult educating beekeepers. I have found over the years that most beekeepers fall into one of two camps. There are the hands-off beekeepers, which do nothing; they rely solely on perceived “good genetics” of survivor colonies and let the others perish. Then, there are the quick and dirty wielders of powerful miticides who, for the sake of convenience and economy, forego any concern for the long-term sub-lethal effects of these very chemicals on the bees themselves. Getting both camps to consider the middle ground of an Integrated Pest Management approach to managing Varroa mites has been difficult and taken much more time and effort than expected.
How do you further your beekeeping learning? I enjoy reading current books and research publications on honey bees and beekeeping. In addition, my research responsibilities, extension duties and speaking schedule keeps me in touch with a myriad of researchers, authors and speakers with whom I greatly appreciate networking and sharing ideas. But I truly learn the most from the beekeepers themselves; those who are in the field working day after day trying to keep their bees and business alive.
Why is beekeeping important to you? I love honey bees. I’ve always been enthralled by their amazing biological and social mechanisms. Furthermore, in light of recent events, such as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and the state of our environment, protecting bees, along with other pollinators and beneficials, seems more important now than ever. Not only do they provide pollination and food for a whole host of living things, but without them, we would be resigned to accept a bland, colorless gruel consisting of starches and grains. I rejoice in the flavorful, colorful fruits and vegetables that arrive on my dinner plate by virtue of the hard work of our agricultural partners.
Who is your mentor or hero in the beekeeping world or food movement? I could write a book about all those who are my mentors and heroes. But the first one that comes to mind has to be Bob Binnie. Bob is a beekeeper and owner of the Blue Ridge Honey Company in Northern Georgia. I have learned so much from his gentle approach to bees, the beekeeping business and life in general.
What’s your most useful piece of clothing for working with your hives? A veil. During the warmer months, we work colonies in t-shirts and blue jeans, but we always wear a veil. Most honey bees are not aggressive, however it only takes one to sting you on the inside of your nose to make you appreciate the invention of protective clothing.
Favorite season? Why? As a beekeeper, gardener, and general outdoorsy person, spring is always my favorite season. Bees and the rest of nature are waking up from the months of grey horizons and colorless landscapes. When the pollen and nectar begin to flow, you can almost see the smiles on the faces of the bees as they return to the hive.
What do you think is the future of beekeeping in the United States? Being an optimist, I’m hopeful that the future will be our finest hour. The research resulting from CCD has not only taught us (beekeepers and scientists) much more about honey bees and beekeeping but also about some of the minute intricacies going on in the hive (disease/pest/chemical synergies, nutritional and management stress, etc). But the biggest plus that has come out of CCD, is how educated the public has become about the importance of bees. Since 2006, we’ve seen a wave of new, eager, environmentally passionate participants join the world of beekeeping and becoming bee stewards.
Check out Jennifer's CNG profile here.