June 5, 2023

Building stronger bee colonies for a better environment

Beekeeper Mike Schmaeling uses a smoke system to move honeybees to a new colony. Supplied photo.

By Kyle Golden

Beekeeper Mike Schmaeling is building stronger honeybee colonies the natural way through treatment-free alternatives to benefit nature’s leading producer in agriculture.

Rodale Institute’s honeybee conservancy is tucked away on the 333-acre Founders Farm in Maxatawny Township. The institute started a honeybee conservancy in 2012 to build more resilient colonies by exploring treatment-free options to help combat the health problems that kill honeybee colonies.

“Today, there is a grave concern for the very existence of this precious creature,” says Schmaeling, the institute’s resident beekeeper.

Honeybees are pollinators that provide a vital service to the ecosystem. Pollinators carry pollen from one flower to another flower to pollinate the habitat, keeping the ecosystem alive.

“They roughly produce 60 percent of the produce in agriculture,” Schmaeling says. “They pollinate the entire floral kingdom and make it beautiful.”

Schmaeling prioritizes resiliency in his bee colonies by avoiding pesticides and other types of bee colony treatments. He emphasizes the long-term health of the colony and selectively breeds bees from only the strongest colonies. Schmaeling builds stronger colonies by keeping the honey in the hive and locally raising bees that can survive in the northeast climate without the use of chemicals.

The biggest problems to honeybees today are colony management and pesticides, Schmaeling says. Beekeepers need to use proper techniques to protect the health and productivity of their bees. To build stronger colonies, beekeepers should place colonies where there are enough food sources and far from areas where pesticides are used. Colony strength is also determined by the breeding quality of queen bees.

Schmaeling manages around 300 bee colonies with 100 of them being mating colonies where they breed queen bees. Rodale has 50 honey-producing colonies and about 200 nucleus colonies which are smaller colonies where all the breeder queens are placed to breed.

“The honeybee will prevail, but they also need our help,” Schmaeling says.

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