MONDAY MAN: Keeper warns: bee-ware
DOZENS OF FOOD CROPS are partially or totally dependent on the pollination of honeybees. So people should seek to preserve rather than kill them, says beekeeper David Small.
“The bee population is dying out,” warns the St Andrew-based owner of David’s Bees.
He says that losing bees is not a good thing since these indispensable farm workers are very important to the world’s survival. He frowns on some people whose first instinct is to destroy a swarm of bees that they come across, saying this should be curbed.
“The ecosystem as a whole would die. Bees would pollinate a tree, the seeds drop and a young plant comes up. Without bees we cannot survive; we may have only four years after the bees are gone.”
He notes there are some plants that are self-pollinating, while bees pollinate about 80 per cent of the crops worldwide. For Barbados, the farmers get a better fruit set when there are the stinging winged insects to pollinate them, he says.
Therefore, Small wants farmers to buy into the fact that bees are here to help. The use of pesticides is said to be one of the contributors to the reduction in the numbers of honeybees locally.
“That is very detrimental, but there are pesticides that are bee-friendly and not as toxic and should be the preferred options by farmers even though they are a bit more expensive,” he advises. “They need to buy into the fact that the bees are needed if they intend to feed the people.”
In 2003, a mite partially devastated the bee population, Small recalls, but since 2012 there has been a resurgence, though he will like to see more rearing of the dominant queen bees.
Through his business, Small, who started beekeeping in 1977 while working at the Soil Conservation Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, does hive removal, organic honey production, beekeeping consultation/inspection, crop pollination and apiculture tourism. He has undergone training in all aspects of apiculture such as beehive management, honey production and marketing, bee health and more.
Though most of his training has been on the job, he has done some stints at the Caribbean Bee College at St George’s University, Grenada, and the South Florida Bee College.
Small lives in Corbin’s Village, Lakes, St Andrew, and is employed with the National Conservation Commission (NCC). His interest in bees started when he was a little boy. “As a youngster we would play with the bees, would shake them and put them to your ear and pretend it is a radio, but the real interest in bees started when I realised the role they played in the growth of crops.”
When Small does hive removals, depending on the temperament of the bees he will bring them home, but if they are aggressive or if they are Africanised, then he will destroy them. That is part of his effort to keep the bee population going.
“There are some bees that even if you smoke the hive, they start to attack, but how I look at it, if I go to move you out of your house you would make noise, so for the bees that may be the case.”
Overall, Small says the interest in bees is growing. Every day he sees more people asking for advice or coming to the NCC for beekeeping equipment and gear.
There are about 30 species of bees in Barbados but the only one he is interested in is the honeybee, even though the bumblebee is also known locally to pollinate some plants.
Small also sells honey. One hive can create as much as 50 pounds of honey which he can sell at $20 a pound. The only drawback is that it takes close to a year to get a hive ready to start extracting the honey.
“If I extract honey at 10 a.m., by 4 p.m. the honey will be gone,” he says. “The Bajan public believes in buying the local honey. A lot of the product that is imported into the island is not of high quality and has a heavy concentration of corn syrup. The honey coming into the island is very expensive on the shelf.”
Small, who is president of the association of beekeepers, is also working with the 4H Foundation on teaching children about bees and encouraging the public to set up their own hives.
David Small smoking one of the hives.
The association, which has a small membership, aims to get the Barbados honey brand established and marketed.
He is working to get funding through the United Nations Small Grants Fund to create a sustainable beekeeping industry in Barbados.
“We will be looking to set up a bottling plant where if you have your honey, you can have it extracted. If you want it back you can market it under your name or you can pool your honey to be sold under the Barbados branded honey.”
Small’s chief message is about conservation: “It is just for people to understand that the bees are there for us not to be destroyed and if we can get that message across, I think it would do a lot.”