Beekeeping is fun and helps the food supply
Honey bees account for pollinating anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of food consumed in the country, according to National Geographic news. However, the declining bee population may affect major losses in fruit and vegetable crops unless steps are taken to preserve the bee population.
Bee care is enjoying a resurgence, thanks to people like Betty Mencucci of Betty's Bee Farm in Glendale. She shared her beekeeping expertise at the library on Oct. 15, in a lecture sponsored by the Quononoquott Garden Club.
Betty talked about some theories as to why the honey bee has become so scarce in recent years. "Everyone wants to know what's killing the bees," she said.
Moths, hive beetles, and a variety of mites have infested bee colonies over the last 20 years, according to research reports across the country. The 1990s witnessed huge losses of apiaries, up to 80 percent. "Beekeeping has been difficult, because not a lot of money has been going into remedies," Betty said.
The beekeeper is chairwoman and educator for the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association. She has taken strides to build interest in the honey bee, and her classes have grown in quantum leaps in recent years. On Monday, the library meeting room was filled with eager learners.
Honey bees were not Betty's life goal at first. Her father had beehives. Betty remembered being around the hives, but paid little attention to them as she grew up. She would see her father work 10 hours every day. Anything she touched seemed to have a sticky quality. She decided beekeeping as a career did not suit her.
In 1987, however, her father died suddenly, leaving behind 10 hives in need of care. Betty stepped up and took over the operation. She went to classes, conferences, and any other place where she could learn about beekeeping. "Now a lot of my life revolves around bees," Betty said. "It forces you to pay attention to nature."
In her presentation, Betty described the life cycles of the sole queen bee, 40 to 60 thousand worker bees, and a few thousand drones that make up a colony. She pointed out that, contrary to popular opinion, honey bees rarely sting people. "They will only sting to defend their homeland," she said.
Southern New England first saw honey bees in the 1600s. Not indigenous to America, the bees came by ship in skeps, specially woven straw baskets, with the Colonists. They were prolific in the New World, and provided a sweetener for the settlers. "When the Native Americans saw the insects, they knew the white man was not far behind. They called it the White Man's Fly," Betty explained.
Betty has turned the natural beehive products into soaps, creams, candles and other quality merchandise found in local grocery and specialty stores. She also teaches beginner beekeeping classes through the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association every spring. Her course has become so popular that as many as 90 students in one class have signed up. Next March, Betty plans to teach a course in South County.
For more information about beekeeping and products of the hive, call Betty at 568-8449, or send an e-mail to bmencucci@ cox.net.