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Last modified: April 23. 2007 4:23AM
from SW Florida's Herald Tribune http://www.heraldtribune.com
Beekeeper's life about 'chasing the blooms'
By BILL HUTCHINSON
The orange blossom season has been done for almost a month now, so Gary Ranker has just about finished moving his 30 million honeybees from the citrus groves where they spent the winter to the vine-crop fields -- melons, cucumbers, squash -- where they will do their pollination thing until early fall. Ranker is the last big beekeeper left in Manatee County, and a beekeeper's life, as he tells it, is all about "chasing the blooms." As soon as crop plants start to flower, farmers hire his bees by the truckload to do what bees do, carry male pollen to the female blossom, thus turning the blossom into a zucchini, or an ear of corn, or a melon. Tomato plants spread their pollen on the wind, but most everything else that Florida grows needs the help of bees, a fact of nature people seem to have lost sight of, says Ranker, now that "they think food gets made at the supermarket." "No bees, no crops," he shrugs. That much is still true. Ranker moves his bees on a flatbed truck that is the only new vehicle he has owned in his 61 years, and he does it by night. Bees don't sleep, but darkness quiets the hives down. Even so, there is always some activity during transport. It's better if the roads aren't crowded because people do not react well to the sight of swarming bees. On a night when he is moving bees, Ranker will typically be stung 100 times. After countless thousands of stings over the 48 years he has been keeping bees, his body has adjusted so that the stings no longer swell, but every one still hurts. "I liken it to the person who has to take insulin for their diabetes," says Ranker, a Maryland native who has been here long enough for his accent to have picked up a light dusting of interior Florida's slow drawl. "Does it hurt when that needle sticks ya' -- well, yeah. But you need to do what it takes it to get the job done."
The bachelor life "This is the bee house," says Ranker of his '70s split-level on the 10-acre Palmetto farm where he lives and works. Stacks of bee magazines spill out from under a coffee table appointed with bee coasters. There is a large bee pillow on the sofa, and plastic bees of varying sizes serve as paperweights for bee articles he has clipped. His pets all have names that begin with B, including a cockatiel called Benjy and a cat named Barker because Ranker really wanted a dog. He's been married twice, neither time for very long, five years the first time and three years the next. Some artifacts of the second marriage remain in his living room -- salmon-colored walls, the occasional crocheted doily -- but the house feels like a bachelor lives there, which is how he likes it. It is a solitary life, beekeeping. Ranker works alone for most of the year, except when he hires on a couple of helpers during the honey harvests that follow each growing season. His honey gets shipped off in barrels to the SueBee folks in Iowa, who blend it with honeys from thousands of independent bee farmers around the country -- "bee men," he calls them, even if they're women, which they rarely are. "I always wanted to be a bee man," Ranker says, meaning since he discovered bees in the fifth grade. A year after that, he bought his first hive. By 15 he owned a dozen hives -- maybe half a million bees -- and was selling his honey to a wholesaler. Ranker worked five years after high school at a tire factory to save up enough money to finance his business degree from the University of Maryland. After graduation, he stopped being a "sideliner," as bee men call the hobbyists among them, and went into the business full time. He will do a bee removal once in a while, but Ranker's income is about evenly split between pollination and its by-products, honey and beeswax.
Like the farmers who are his customers, Ranker is feeling the increasing threat of cheap foreign competition. Other countries are not allowed to export their bees to the United States, but they sell their honey and beeswax here, especially China, where bee cultivation has become a significant industry. "I'm basically working for Chinese wages, as far as the honey is concerned," Ranker says. As far as pollination is concerned, beekeepers in 25 states, including Florida, have been hit hard by what's called "Colony Collapse Disorder," which causes whole hives to empty out overnight. "There are no dead bodies," says Ranker, no evidence that the insects have died in the hive. "They're just gone." He's down 250 hives this year, a quarter of his optimal bee population, and he knows of other beekeepers who had been wiped out. "They haven't found anything that can be done about it because they haven't found out what causes it," says Ranker, who subscribes to the theory that there's some sort of chemical involved, some sort of additive to commercial seeds, producing blossoms that causes bees to "fly off and die somewhere." Now, bee colonies are starting to collapse mysteriously in western Europe. In Great Britain, they're talking about cell phone radiation as a possible culprit. "It's a funny world," says Gary Ranker. "And that's a fact."
More hard work ahead Ranker lost 70 percent of his bees over the long and windy summer of Hurricane Charley. One of his two grown sons came down to help him rebuild, which required hundreds of new queen bees at $12 to $15 apiece. ("I remember," he says, "when you could get a queen for 75 cents.") If another disaster were to hit Ranker Apiary, he's not sure he'd have the money or the energy to start up again. He hopes to get another 10 years out of bee farming, but you never know. California bee-farming has been cut in half over the last 20 years because development has eaten up so much land that once served as "bee pasture" -- farms, orchards, wildflower fields. Ranker's scruffy 10 acres, dotted with stands of palmetto ("about the best honey there is") and mounds of rusted metal salvage, is being blocked in by planned communities of "400 homes here, 600 homes there." "Sooner or later, they're going to pave over the shell road out here at the end of my driveway, and that'll be the end of (the rural) way of life out here." He's been broken into a couple times, both his home and the "honey house" at the edge of his property, the working warehouse where he does his extracting and his processing. "You couldn't imagine something like that happening 10 years ago. Now, I lock up my truck when it's sitting out in the yard."
But a farmer's life allows little time for nostalgia. Ranker has a pole barn to finish putting up, to protect the bees while he's working them during the summer, treating them for the pests and mites to which Florida honeybees are especially vulnerable. Before the next honey harvest, his extractors and the processing tanks will need a good cleaning. He's got new queens coming in and colonies to build, replacing those that have disappeared. And there's a grower up the way who's desperate for bees, his usual supplier having gone out of business and his 600 acres of cantaloupe plants already flowering on the ground. Ranker's bees were all working elsewhere, but he was able to deploy some of the troops to save the melons. "No bees, no crops," he says again. "You always want to help a guy out if you can."
Which over-the-counter product would you rather take for seasonal allergies: diphenhydramine, chlorpheniramine, pseudoephedrine or honey?
That's right, honey. It has been used for hundreds of years as a way to curtail allergies to local pollens. B.J. Amos, of Healthy Solutions in Gloucester, says the remedy can help allergy symptoms. "You want the stuff that's grown locally," said B.J. Amos of Healthy Solutions in Gloucester. "It is wonderful stuff. We have so many customers who use it, we can't keep it in stock."
"We’re fighting back with better promotion of Canadian honey as a premium product," Heather Clay said. "Canadian honey is one of the highest standards in the world." The CHC would also like to see changes to labelling because honey labelled "Canada Number One" could still be imported, and it is deceiving. The CHC also wants to see clearly visible country-of-origin labelling.
One Saskatchewan beekeeper, Dr. Len Proctor, who teaches Communications at the local university communicated this statement, "Why should we import other people's garbage?" GARBAGE is what he called American imports. Quite a communication! Not all Saskatchewan beekeepers refer to American bees and queens as GARBAGE. One - John Hilbert - has 3,500 colonies, and says the ban on imports cost him $150,000 in a single year when he had to have bees flown in from Australia!
Meanwhile, next door to Saskatchewan is Alberta, where bee count went UP BY 60,000 HIVES. Why? Alberta is the place with an ‘open-doors’ policy, a libertarian government, and pro-business mentality. When intelligent, hard-working people are confronted with overwhelming, patriarchic government bureaucracy, folks simply pack up and move. This in part explains why the number of hives and beekeepers in Saskatchewan fell by 25,000 hive and 500 keepers, while neighbouring Alberta saw numbers of beehives climb dramatically!
KIBUNGAN, Benguet -- Unlike lowland dwellers who are said to be facing financial crisis and food shortages, highlanders like farmers in this remote town of about four hours bus ride from Baguio City have other alternatives - hunting, gathering root crops and wild fruits, among others. Lately, they have also engaged in a new livelihood activity, which surely promises sweet returns - beekeeping. It all started sometime July when 11 representatives of a farmers association in this town along with some volunteers of the sponsoring group Cordillera Green Network (CGN) completed a 3-day basic beekeeping seminar workshop.
He added "Honey and Bee products have proved effective as feed additives for animals and birds to increase their life span, weight, rate of reproduction, speed up growth and improve egg and milk production. Animal diseases can also be treated effectively with bee products thus eliminating the use of chemical antibiotics, which pose danger to human health globally. In addition, the antioxidant, anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties of bee products offer wide scope for application in food technology including meat processing and packaging."
In a paper presented on the Linkage of Beekeeping to Optimum Production in Livestock industry, Mr. Tunde Fabunmi, Executive Director, Bee Conservation Project told participants that Beekeeping, otherwise known as apiculture is not only a core part of agriculture but also has positive effect on the other forms of farming including poultry.
He added that Bee and its products can significantly improve productivity' in livestock industry through the perspectives of animal nutrition, disease control, and meat processing.
"Indian honey exporters are experiencing a boon as their exports are estimated to touch over 30,000 tonnes by 2007-08 from the existing quantum of 20,000 tonnes," according to a study released Wednesday by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham).
"The beekeeping activities of countries and regions like China, Europe and the US have been affected by the pest and viral attacks, the impact of which has been so severe and drastic that their honey exports have been virtually ruined," said Assocham president Mahendra K. Sanghi.
This has provided a great opportunity for Indian honey exporters to strengthen their position in the global market.
Indian honey exports, which have risen from the levels of 100 tonnes in 1997 to 10,000 tonnes by end of 2002, is estimated to exceed 30,000 tonnes by 2007-08, Sanghi said.
The Assocham study is based on growth in honey exports over the last two years and feedback from various agencies under the aegis of the National Beekeeping Development Programme, formulated by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC).
Alongside the growth in quantity, export revenue from honey has risen from Rs.400 million in 2002 through export of 10,000 tonnes to over Rs.1 billion through export of 20,000 tonnes in 2003-04.
"Since the beekeeping activities of the leading honey exporters of the world such as China, US, Europe are still under viral attack which continues to provide strength to Indian beekeeping activities, its exports in the next four years are estimated to go over 30,000 tonnes," according to Assocham study.
Under the National Beekeeping Development Programme, over 200 projects with an investment of Rs.2 billion are envisaged. These are expected to generate over 100,000 jobs.
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Beekeeping: The Beekeeper's Home Pages - (Beekeeping@shaw.ca) - http://www.badbeekeeping.com
Beekeeping: The Beekeeper's Home Pages - (Beekeeping@shaw.ca) - http://www.badbeekeeping.com