KINGSTON >> Just about every morning when the weather is warm, Rich Hines settles into an old cedar chair in his back yard and sips his coffee while as many as a half million honey bees buzz around him.
Sitting among his bees, he said, brings him to “a place of mystery and awe and wonder.”
“I sit and watch, said Hines, a Cottekill resident. “The bees teach me a lot. You just have to take the time to watch and wait.”
Hines is one of a number of beekeepers in Ulster County, and is the co-vice president of the Ulster County Beekeepers Association, an organization dedicated to a promoting a natural approach to honeybee care and advocating for public awareness and a shift in environmental policy to keep our pollinators and our earth healthy and diverse.
Since 2006, honeybees have been dying off in massive numbers, a fact the U.S. Department of Agriculture has blamed in part on a parasitic mite, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition, genetics and pesticides.
“We think the bees are pretty much canaries in the coal mine for our food chain,” said Megan Denver, a beekeeper and the owner of Hudson Valley Bee Supply, a Kingston-based business that provides supplies and educational opportunities for beekeepers.
Denver, who has been keeping bees for the past seven years, said she decided to open the business, which is located on Sawkill Road, as a place for beekeepers to buy gear, take a class or just network with other beekeepers.
“We are beekeepers first,” said Denver. “I think beekeeping is … a philosophy for us.
“It’s a conversation about the environment, your food source, just bringing back that whole local food conversation,” she said.
Bees spend much of the time during warm weather gathering the nectar required to produce honey, which is the bees’ primary source of winter food.” “In the winter time, they stay alive in the hive and they need something to feed on and the honey is their food,” said Hines. A hive needs around 60 pounds of honey to get through the winter, he said.
For Hines, who believes the world needs people who will keep bees “as a community service,” the fascination with the yellow and black insect that provides us not only with honey and beeswax but with the pollination of plants so important to agriculture, began when as an 8-year old, his attention was captured by the buzz of bees in some wildflowers.
“I took a little nail brush and painted a little red dot on about a dozen bees to see if they would come back,” said Hines. “It fascinated me.”
“I learned as a kid that they are fairly docile. I would let one crawl onto my finger then pet it like a little puppy dog,” he said with a laugh.That’s not to say he hasn’t been stung, because he has — at times intentionally — but he has learned that generally speaking if you just “think love and be cool,” the bees will be content to let you observe their comings and goings without giving you much of a second thought.
After retiring from his job with New York state, Hines, who is also a Cornell Cooperative Extension master gardener and a professional banjo player, decided to rekindle his love affair with the honey bee that was sparked so long ago.
Living on a relatively small plot of land in Cottekill, Hines has created what he believes is a “sanctuary” for honey bees, with 10 established hives that boast between 40,000 and 50,000 honey bees per hive.
“I’m giving them a place where they can live as normal and naturally as they possibly can,” said Hines. “I think that the bees, just by the fact that they are here, add to the life.
- The Passionate Beekeeper (adoptahive.wordpress.com)
- Napa City Council seeks beekeeper-friendly rules (adoptahive.wordpress.com)