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Hive mind, will travel — to pollinate crops
Nashua beekeeper makes house calls

03/01/12



Kagen Weeks is fascinated by bees. He takes great interest in knowing the insects work as a collective and make decisions as a group.

“I find it inspiring to see that in my own backyard — a few thousand individuals able to sort stuff out,” Weeks said.
Weeks grew up spending summers on the family farm in Pittsfield where his grandfather kept bees. It was only a small part of the farm operation, but it helped with pollinating the crops. He began keeping bees of his own when he moved to Nashua two years ago. He is now hoping to help others gain an appreciation for bees and educate the public on how to improve the health and habitat of the dwindling bee population through his Hive-At-Your-Home project.

Weeks said he often shares information about bees and beekeeping with anyone who will lend an ear. He has noticed that many people are interested in the insect but not everybody is willing to dabble in beekeeping.

“A lot more people than I thought were interested,” Weeks said. “I thought I could help out and bring experience to that.”

For a small yearly fee, Weeks will maintain a beehive on the property of Granite Staters signed on to his project, which he said could serve as a gateway for a user to become a beekeeper — or not.

“Some people are just interested in pollination,” Weeks said, adding that the program will allow members to avoid the expense and know-how needed to keep bees. Weeks was able to raise more than $1,300 on Kickstarter.com to get Hives-At-Your-Home off the ground.

The use of pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, on flowers and plants typically pollinated by bees has been identified as one of the causes of the decline in the bee population, Weeks said. Pesticides make their way into every cell of the plant and are passed through to the bees when they take protein from the pollen and carbohydrates from the nectar.

“[Pesticide] is killing our bees,” Weeks said. “They bring the pollen back and use it to feed the babies. They bring the poison back to the hive.” Chemicals can weaken the hive to a point where it can be destroyed by almost anything, he said. “It’s a hard-to-solve problem because it’s a weakening problem,” Weeks added. “We don’t know what killed them if it happened three months ago.”

As bees pollinate nearly half of the food supply, Weeks said, there could be trouble down the road if the population continues to decrease. Right now more than 70 percent of bees are raised in the South, and the same hives are often brought on cross-country pollination trips to California, Texas, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

“I personally believe that although our current food supply is dependent upon those particular practices, I don’t think it’s good practices for bees,” Weeks said.

Roger Noonan, owner of Middle Branch Farm in New Boston, was one local farmer who shared his concerns with Weeks about the lack of bees visiting his property. Noonan agreed to support Weeks’ mission by allowing him to maintain bees on his farm. Weeks is a member of the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program offered by Noonan.

“My CSA share gets better if he gets pollination,” Weeks said. “I thought, what about other CSAs and community gardens?”
Noonan said his crops now mainly see such “native pollinators” as bumble bees, wasps and “any bug that flies inside a plant and gets pollen on its legs or wings” and that he was happy to support Weeks’ project.

“He’s a supporter of ours, we want to be a supporter of his … I don’t want to take on running and managing hives,” Noonan said. “I’m happy to have someone else come in and do that part of the job for me.”

Weeks said his project has been positively received by people at local community gardens he has approached.

“A lot of people want to figure out how to bring hives to community gardens … they seemed to jump on the chance to be able to be involved in something that helps both nature and their communities,” he said. Weeks will give a demonstration at the Wilton Community Garden in early June.

Weeks said he has also received responses from people in urban areas inquiring about how bees would hold up in a city atmosphere. “We would focus on providing them with their hive — a hive that won’t swarm, which means reproduce, try to make more hives, send out bees,” Weeks said. In rural areas there is a need and desire for massive pollination, so swarming is not an issue, he said.

The focus of Hive-At-Your-Home is not to max out the honey extraction from the hives but to maintain healthy bees, Weeks said. “Honey is part of this, but it’s secondary to the survivability of the bees,” Weeks said. Honey that is produced in the hive will be given to the Hive-At-Your-Home member at the end of his or her first year of participation — it takes a year for the hive to be strong enough for production.

Those interested in being a part of Weeks’ bee project must be excited about bees, and should expect to be educated on what it is like to have bees around (Weeks said his 2-year-old daughter has not had any issues around his hives), but they don’t have to be ready to run a beekeeping operation.

“If they don’t want any involvement, they pay for me to do the work and don’t have to do anything but enjoy the bees being there and at the end of the year they will get some honey to sample from their own hive,” Weeks said. “I do try to give them some great classical works on how to observe a hive from the outside and know what the bees are doing even without opening the hive up.”

Weeks will ask for $150 from those wanting to participate in the first year of Hive-At-Your-Home. The requested amount will guarantee the user a hive and honey at home and “as much or as little of me blabbing and talking about bees” as they want, Weeks said. Subsequent years of having the bees kept by Weeks will still require a yearly maintenance fee but he said it will likely be at a lower price point.

If members opt to house a hive for another year, honey will be produced at a larger quantity. Weeks said that is the first point in his project where he will see a profit. All money paid for his efforts at that point will have gone toward the yearly maintenance of the hive.

“This is a sideline venture for me that I love doing for my love of bees,” Weeks said.
 






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