This week on the blog we're excited to introduce you to Jon Zawislak.
As the bee specialist with University of Arkansas Extension, Jon is the go-to guy for anything bee-related in the state. Whether it's technical info for commercial apiarists, general info for the public, or hands-on training for beginning beekeepers, he can help!
Not a CNG member himself, he is an advocate for natural practices and we are delighted to count him as a member of our Apiary Advisory Council!
Describe your work at as the bee specialist for the University of Arkansas Extension. My time is split between research and education, and answering lots of questions from lots of different people. Some days I am a technical reference for commercial beekeepers, sideliners and hobbyists. The next day I may speak to gardeners or grade school kids. I field the questions from the general public that may be curious about bees or downright terrified of the swarm that appeared in their front yard. I have helped train several military teams that went to Afghanistan to help re-establish and modernize their agricultural production after so many years of war. I travel our entire state, teaching classes and workshops, and speaking at various meetings and events. When I'm not talking about bees or writing about them, I try to find some time to go out and be with them.
How did you get into beekeeping? My fascination with bees began when I worked for a college professor who kept bees. In addition to all the routine apiary chores, we caught swarms and even removed an enormous colony from one of the historic buildings on our campus. I learned by watching and doing and asking lots of questions. Eventually I went back to school to get another degree in entomology, where I focused on bees and their parasites, and I lucked into my position when I graduated.
Why is beekeeping important to you? I just love watching and working with the bees. Aside from the occasional sting, I find beekeeping very relaxing and contemplative. The fact that they reward me with honey, and benefit the environment in so many ways, just adds to the joy of beekeeping.
Where are your apiaries? I currently have three urban bee yards, two of which are located in community gardens, providing me with public spaces I can use for education and demonstration, as well as help supply the gardens with pollinators and a not just a little honey for my family – everybody wins! My wife and I have seven wonderful children, who are all interested in the bees, and are fearless when they help out the dad in the bee yard. Together we operate Walnut Valley Honey as a family enterprise.
How do you further your own beekeeping knowledge? I’m always on the lookout for new information through reading and attending conferences and constantly visiting with other beekeepers about their management styles, successes and failures. Observing the bees in my own hives and learning from my own mistakes is often one of the best ways to learn a lesson.
How and why did you get involved with CNG? I came to know Alice Varon (CNG Executive Director) and Buddy Marterre through the Eastern Apicultural Society, and they introduced me to their work with CNG. Alice later invited me to serve on CNG’s apiary advisory council. Since USDA organic certification has criteria that can be impossible for most beekeepers to meet, I have tried to promote CNG as a practical alternative.
Talk about the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as a beekeeper. My first experience with small hive beetles was a shock. I had moved some of my bees from an area with no beetles into an area that was highly infested, and within a few weeks I felt overrun. I quickly read every source I could find on beetles and their biology, looking for answers. I have since managed to keep them under control in most cases with a combination of strong healthy hives and traps for the adults, but they can be overwhelming.
What has been your most positive beekeeping experience? I recently taught a semester long beginning beekeeping class for kids age 10-14. The first weeks were mainly classroom lectures, which gave way to more hands-on activities like building hives and frames. Finally the day arrived when we installed the bees. The kids were a little nervous at first, but soon they realized that they had little to fear as long as they remained calm. It was fantastic to see their attitudes evolve over time from mildly curious to wildly enthusiastic. At the end of the class each of the families moved their hives home to keep working with their bees. Knowing that I helped to open a new generation to beekeeping is very rewarding.
Favorite beekeeping product That’s got to be the honey. When you work so hard all spring, and then see that glorious golden goodness flowing out of the extractor, and taste that magical flavor, it’s worth all the stings and heavy lifting. There’s just nothing quite like fresh honey right from your own hive.
What’s your favorite way to use honey in a recipe? I like to drizzle a little fresh honey over plain vanilla ice cream. When the honey hits the cold ice cream, it turns thick, and is so much better than any other sauce or fancy topping.
Favorite season? Why? I love the spring with all its possibilities, when the beehives begin to bustle again. But my favorite season is the fall. After our blistering southern summertime, it’s such a relief to enjoy the welcome rains, the cool air and the changing colors in the trees.
What do you think is the future of beekeeping in the United States? In my opinion, breeding bees to become naturally resistant or tolerant to mites and diseases will be the only sustainable future for our industry, although that’s going to be a very long road to fully accomplish. We also need to educate people on the importance of pollinators, and recruit more people that are willing to take up a smoker and continue the ancient tradition of beekeeping.
~To learn more about Jon's work, visit www.aragriculture.org/insects/beekeeping.htm