As you head down the hill off North Street into Sam Bridge Nursery, you might see Joel Dawson down by his bee hives lined up in a brightly colored row.
Dawson is a tall, robust man wearing the whites of a beekeeper, from his white jeans all the way to his white netted hood. His six hives painted in bright primary colors are each sporting a cloud of bees in constant motion. Dawson turned to beekeeping after his retirement as a Creative Director in the beauty industry.
His father-in-law kept bees and Dawson got the bug from him. When his beekeeper friend moved to Italy four years back, he gifted Dawson his three hives and that was the genesis of Old Greenwich Honey.
“I read like a madman,” Dawson said, “And the deeper I went, the more fascinating these tiny animals became.” He joined the local Backyard Beekeeper Association and hasn’t looked back since. He now has 29 hives scattered throughout town and is hoping to have 50 hives by the end of next year.
In the process of establishing his hives Dawson has also learned that bees are dying in huge numbers. “Fifteen, twenty years ago beekeeping was pretty straightforward,” Dawson said. “You put your bees out in April and collected your honey in September. But now you’re just doing everything you can to keep the hives alive.”
At the same time honey bees pollinate 75% of our food supply. Vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds are all pollinated by honey bees. “We need bees to deliver our fruits and vegetables and our vitamins and minerals because we get these nutrients from the plants they pollinate,” said Dawson.
Nationwide we lost nearly 44% of honey bees last year — that’s the second highest loss since Beeinformed.org, a consortium of university researchers and commercial beekeepers, started keeping records. Loss of habitat, pesticide use and Verroa mites are the major stressors on bees that lead to colony collapse.
Lawn and garden pesticides are a persistent threat to bees and other pollinating insects.
Neonicotinoids (neonics) are neurotoxic chemicals that are sprayed on turf and fruit trees to control insects. They do not degrade readily after spraying and build up in the environment with repeated applications.
Studies are finding that neonics are associated with colony collapse in bees by impairing their neurological functions. Neonic exposure could be the last straw for bees stressed from a hard winter or from parasitic mites.
A number of recent studies have concluded that glyphosate sold under the brand name RoundUp may also be hazardous to bees. Although the herbicide, which is used to control weeds, is not as toxic as neonics, researchers found that glyphosate impedes bee larvae growth, diminishing bees’ navigation and foraging behavior, even disrupting gut bacteria, according to the Xerces Society, a conservation organization dedicated to insect diversity.
Homeowners can help to protect bee populations by avoiding pesticide and herbicide chemical applications. Pesticides are short-term solutions to longstanding problems that can often be addressed with a more holistic and targeted approach.
Dawson finds that a squirt or two of vinegar and salt solution dispatches the offending weed within a day, and he encourages homeowners to transition some of their turf to more bee friendly plantings that invite honey bees like Joel Dawon’s to visit.
Want to learn more about bees? Maybe keep a hive of your own? Dawson is offering classes at Sam Bridge. Contact him at [email protected] to register.
DIY weedkiller recipe:
1 gallon distilled vinegar
1/2 cup table salt
1 teaspoon dish soap.
Pour mixture into spray bottle and use on a sunny day for best results.