Contributed by Sara Miller, Historic Village Program Administrator
Brrr, it has been cold so far this winter! While bundled up in layers of clothing, it is hard to believe that Spring is just around the corner. Ahh Spring, the season of new beginnings. The weather gets warmer, baby birds peek their heads out of their nests, flowers begin to grow and bloom, and bees awake from their winter hibernation. Now I know what you are thinking…bees, yuck! Why should we be excited that bees are back? They are annoying and sting you for no apparent reason. While I tend to agree with you, the poor honey bee gets a bad reputation due to the aggressive and at times destructive behaviors of hornets, wasps, and carpenter bees. Honey bees are extremely important for a number of reasons, and are soon going to be the newest species residing at BNHV.
Before I jump into talking about the new apiary let me give you a little bit of background on honey bees. The honey bee is considered a super-organism, just like humans, due to their complex social structures and tight-knit interactions. They are capable of engaging in a variety of complex tasks that most insects cannot; for example communication, complex nest construction, defense, and division of labor. And, contrary to popular belief they do not normally sting! Honey bees will only sting to defend themselves, so unless you are standing in front of their hive they will pay you no mind. There are seven recognized honey bee species, the most well-known of which are the western honey bee and the bumblebee. A single honey bee colony will consist of thousands of bees, but there are only three types of bee in each colony and they each have their own specific purpose. Each colony will have one queen whose primary function is reproduction. A queen will produce up to 250,000 eggs per year, laying up to 1,500 per day. The queen’s secondary function is to produce pheromones which unify that particular colony. Drones are the only males in the colony and their sole purpose is to fertilize the queen. Once this task is accomplished, they die instantly. Therefore they have no stingers, pollen baskets, or wax glands and they are only present in late Spring and early Summer. The majority of the honey bee colony are workers, which are sexually undeveloped females who don’t lay eggs. These are the bees you will see out in the “field” foraging for nectar, pollen, water, and propolis (plant sap). Their life span is only about six weeks.
Okay so honey bees don’t sting, who cares right? Wrong! Honey bees “pollinate one out of every three bites of American food, $15 billion worth of crops annually.” That is a pretty big deal, and we have reason to be concerned for the future. The honey bee is in trouble. In 2016 it is estimated that one-third of the nation’s honey bee colonies died. Parasites, pesticides, and disease are to blame for this super-organisms destruction. Not only are honey bees excellent pollinators, but it turns out they are excellent healers as well.
Humans have been drawn to and harvesting honey bees since as far back as Neolithic times. “There is something truly captivating about honey bees that draws us deeper into their world. In recent years, this has been realized through veteran agritherapy programs throughout the United States. Doctors, psychologists, farmers, beekeepers, and veterans have discovered the therapeutic benefits of beekeeping for returning veterans and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. While surrounded by the “hum” of the honey bee hive army veteran Eric Grandon, who suffers with post-traumatic stress disorder and Gulf War syndrome, feels no anxiety and depression. He is completely focused on the bees and what he is doing with them. For veterans the way a bee colony works is like the military, everybody has their job and it’s all for the better of the colony; but instead of being life-takers these veterans are now life-makers and the results have been astounding. Agritherapy and beekeeping programs exist throughout the United States with some of the most popular and successful ones being West Virginia’s Warriors and Veterans to Agriculture, University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab, and the Warrior Transition Battalion on Fort Riley. Beginning in April, BNHV will be home to Western New York’s first veteran beekeeping program with Helmets to Hives.
Helmets to Hives is the dream of a local Vietnam veteran and retired horticulturist who feared it would never come to fruition due to an inability to find a suitable location for an apiary. Fate brought him to Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village last fall and after hearing his idea, we knew that this was something we wanted to become involved with. We took a tour of the grounds and found the perfect location for an apiary, out back past the historic village near the edge of our property. The next step was to get support from a local beekeeping supplier in hopes of receiving the necessary equipment at cost. Once again, fate was at work when the veteran ran into the owner of a local nursery at a beekeeping conference and through conversation learned that he and his daughter were looking to start a similar program. We have since partnered and they are supporting Helmets to Hives with equipment and mentoring. The three major veteran service organizations, the V.A., Vet Center, and Veterans One Stop, have offered their support in the program and flyers and applications are on their way as I write. Bees will be arriving at the end of April but the program is on track to begin at the end of March so that the veterans involved can get some indoor preliminary training before heading outside to the apiary. We are very excited about this new venture here at BNHV and cannot wait for Spring to come so we can get started. If you would like to assist us in anyway or know someone who is interested in joining the program or mentoring please feel free to give us a call at 716-689-1440!
 PennState Extension; Beekeeping Basics; (Pennsylvania State University: PA, 2007); 2- 3.
 Beekeeping Basics; 3-5.
 Sean Rossman; “Honeybees Are in Trouble. Here’s How You Can Help.”; USA Today; June 23, 2017.
 Matthew Umstead; “W.Va. farming program gives vets ‘agritherapy’”; Herald Mail Media; April 25, 2016.