Building a base for honeybees

Sep 15, 2009 By Bill Estep

On a recent muggy morning, Tammy Horn used a smoker to puff aromatic drafts into wooden beehives beneath a locust tree, then carefully removed the top of a hive.

Inside, thousands of honeybees were making sweet liquid gold in this place where noisy machinery once dug out a form of black gold.

The bee yard is on a reclaimed surface coal mine, one of four Horn has set up in Perry and Leslie counties in a project to create good conditions for honeybees on reclaimed mine land.

The Coal Country Beeworks project is among the emerging efforts to find new uses for such land.

Horn, a researcher with Eastern Kentucky University, is looking to expand the project to other counties and neighboring states.

The goal is to help create a flourishing industry in Eastern Kentucky based on bees, with hundreds of people producing honey as well as wax for cosmetics and candles; rearing queens; providing bee colonies to pollinate crops; and doing research.

Even if that dream doesn't come true, using surface mines to create food for bees will have significant benefits.

"We may not provide positions for 500 employees, but we'll provide food for 500,000 pollinators," said Horn, with the Environmental Research Institute at EKU. "We're setting up a biosphere for the future."

That's important because bees play a crucial role in agricultural production. A third of our diet comes from sources pollinated by insects, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, and bees do 80 percent of that work.

It's also important because the nation's bee population has been decimated, first by mites in the 1980s and more recently by an affliction called .

Commercial beekeepers began seeing losses of 30 percent to 90 percent of their colonies in 2006. Scientists have not pinned down a cause for the disorder.

Part of the solution, however, could be providing habitat and food sources for bees.

That is what Horn is working with coal companies to do -- change the mix of trees they plant during reclamation in a way that creates more nectar and pollen for bees.

"It addresses a national need," Horn said.

In nearly all cases, coal companies must put back vegetation to reclaim areas after mining. They use a variety of grasses, shrubs and trees.

As part of Horn's pilot project, International Coal Group (ICG) and James River Coal have planted more than 10,000 sourwood and basswood trees during reclamation since last year, she said.

Those trees, which haven't typically been planted in reclamation, provide nectar in mid-summer. That bridges the gap between when other trees and flowers bloom, providing a continuous food source for the bees from early spring to late fall.

Sourwood trees grow only in Appalachia, which means only beekeepers in the region can produce sourwood honey, Horn said.

Despite the name, sourwood honey is very sweet and light, with what Horn describes as an intense floral quality, like "sipping a magnolia right off the tree."

The coal companies also have planted flowers that bloom in the fall to provide more nectar and pollen then.

The bee project is only in its second year, but Horn said interest is growing. In addition to working with ICG and James River, she plans to set up bee yards at Pine Branch Coal Sales and TECO Coal.

There is no system yet to sell honey produced by the bees at the reclaimed mine sites, but the goal is to build a self-sustaining co-op in a few years.

Horn, a native of Harlan County whose grandparents kept bees, started the project with a one-time gift from a Tennessee beekeeper, Edwin Holcombe, and his wife Elaine, and the help of Letcher County beekeeper Allen Meyers.

She has since gotten support from coal companies, foundations, EKU, the University of Kentucky's extension service and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

The project builds on the work of the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, an effort to promote planting trees during reclamation.

The initiative helped pave the way to add bee-friendly trees to reclamation efforts. In turn, the bees help pollinate trees planted to reclaim mines, Horn said, a benefit to coal companies.

Eastern Kentucky has a tradition of beekeeping. Horn and others see potential for a revival.

There is plenty of room to develop additional honey production in Kentucky, said Phil Craft, the state Department of Agriculture's bee expert.

Craft said consumers want local honey just as they want local produce. He often gets calls from people late in the year wanting honey, but the supply has run out, he said.

"It's a seller's market at this point," he said.
___

(c) 2009, Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.).
Visit the World Wide Web site of the Herald-Leader at www.kentucky.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Explore further: Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Power lines may become honey bee homes

Dec 15, 2005

A scientist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is proposing a novel solution to the dwindling number of U.S. honey bees.

Probing Question: What's killing the honey bees?

Mar 01, 2007

Far away from the snowdrifts outside our windows, spring is unfolding in California as the almond trees begin to bloom. Missing from the party are millions of honey bees typically trucked in to pollinate the ...

Bee species outnumber mammals and birds combined

Jun 11, 2008

Scientists have discovered that there are more bee species than previously thought. In the first global accounting of bee species in over a hundred years, John S. Ascher, a research scientist in the Division of Invertebrate ...

Asian bees threaten Australia

Jun 15, 2007

Four swarms of Asian bees found in Cairns, Australia, may pose a serious threat to the country's honey bee population.

Wild bees make honey bees better pollinators

Aug 29, 2006

When honey bees interact with wild native bees, they are up to five times more efficient in pollinating sunflowers than when native bees are not present, according to a new study by a pair of researchers at ...

Recommended for you

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

12 hours ago

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

14 hours ago

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

14 hours ago

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Chronic inflammation linked to 'high-grade' prostate cancer

Men who show signs of chronic inflammation in non-cancerous prostate tissue may have nearly twice the risk of actually having prostate cancer than those with no inflammation, according to results of a new study led by researchers ...