Photography by Kara Thorpe
Apiarists work to pollinate regional crops and flowers
The Nature Conservancy recognizes bees as the greatest pollinating machine in agriculture. Honey bees are efficient pollinators because they practice flower fidelity despite being attracted to such a large variety of flowers. Flower fidelity means bees visit the same species of flower when gathering and transfer pollen to the same species. Without pollination plants would not reproduce and those that bear produce would be insufficiently fertilized. Bees are critically important to agriculture.
About 20 years ago, Todd Carver found himself a newlywed living in Virginia. With maple trees less prolific in this region, he decided to begin an apiary. Carver brought his childhood experience with him when starting his apiary. He grew up watching his grandfather tap Maple trees for syrup and tend beehives on a hobby farm in upstate New York, not far from Lake Erie.
Carver has utilized his knowledge to assist the bee population and their important functions in our crop production. Now in his fourth season as a beekeeper Todd has nine hives; seven kept at his home and two he maintains at the Fauquier Education Farm on Meetze Road in Warrenton. “The idea to put hives at the farm came from my wife, Calla, who volunteers there,” he says. “With the yields of the farm, the location is ideal.” The Fauquier Education Farm is a nonprofit organization which provides agricultural education to interested citizens. The produce grown and harvested at the farm is donated to local food banks, enhancing the health and nutrition of the areas food insecure residents.
“The monetary value of honey bees alone as commercial pollinators in the United States is estimated at about $15 billion annually with them doing almost 80% of all crop pollination.” – The Nature Conservancy
Now in his second season with hives at the farm, Carver says it is too early to determine if production is better with the bees’ pollination. Carver expects the Education Farm bees will pollinate the crops grown there and improve the overall yield of the farm, even if the results are challenging to quantify.
With nine hives to maintain, Carver needs access to a lot of equipment to maintain his colonies. Each hive requires at a minimum hive bodies, frames for each body, supers (where the honey is collected), an inner cover, an outer cover, and a base to rest on. Additional items include front feeders or top feeders, supplements, queen excluders, frame spacers, and so much more. Personal beekeeping equipment includes a bee suit or jacket, a smoker, a variety of tools, a brush, as well as myriad of other items. Extra equipment is kept on hand in the event a hive swarms and a new hive is started. For hobbyist beekeepers who collect honey, extraction equipment is added to the growing list of items needed for beekeeping.
Thankfully, beekeepers like Carver may visit the Virginia Bee Supply in Remington to purchase all of their supplies. Jerry Headley opened Virginia Bee Supply in Remington about five years ago because he was tired of paying shipping costs: “It was a three hour drive to buy equipment, which required a day off from work,” he says. Today, the shop carries everything a beginner or seasoned beekeeper could need.
Headley was taught how to be a beekeeper when he was 10 years old by his grandfather who maintained between 25 to 50 hives at any given time and sold his honey in a grocery store he managed. Headley has witnessed the contributions his hives have had on the environment firsthand. He moved to his home in Bealeton from Spotsylvania 15 years ago. “When we moved here, we had a large tangle of trees that were about 40 to 50 feet high. I was going to cut them down,” he recalls. The trees bloomed annually, but never bore any fruit.
“Instead of cutting them down, I put some hives near them. The next spring when the tree bloomed, the bees pollinated the flowers and we learned it was a persimmon tree. The weight of the fruit broke a lot of the branches, naturally trimming the tree, ”Today, Headley says the trees are healthy, fruit bearing, and attractive. “Every beekeeper is making an impact on their small part of the environment,” he says. “Apple orchards in particular keep a few hives per acre to ensure pollination and maximize production from the orchard,” he says as another example of the impact of apiaries.
When he began the shop, he didn’t plan on it taking over his life. “I had a fulltime job,” he laughs. “I did this because I wanted to help people.” Business has grown so much Headley now works full time in the shop, as does his wife and son-in-law. “We are a family-run business aimed at helping people who want to be beekeepers,” he states simply.
This year, Headley provided beekeepers with 1,600 colonies to start hives. With upwards of 10,000-20,000 bees in each colony that equates to as many as 32,000,000 honey bees working to pollinate our region’s rich landscape; a little food for thought when perusing the variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers available at our regional farmers markets this season’s regional farmers markets.
Virginia Bee Supply
101 West Marshall Street, Remington, VA 22734
Fauquier Education Farm
8428 Meetze Road, Warrenton, VA 20187