A closer look at the importance of organic beekeeping, with Elam Beiler!

August 9, 2020

Have you tried this year's batch of Beiler Family Farm raw clover honey? As soon as I got some in my hands, I wanted to know more!

So, I asked Farmer Jonas about the beehives on his farm, and to my surprise he referred me to his 16-year-old son Elam.

Turns out Elam is the main beekeeper on the farm!

The Beiler Family Farm currently has 6 hives. All the Beiler’s bees are 100% organically raised and free to collect nectar from the flowers that grow on their hundreds of acres of pasture. 

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The beehives on the farm are chemical-free because in Elam’s words, “you know you are making a good quality product when it is done naturally instead of with chemicals.”

I learned that Elam not only cares for the bees on his family’s farm but, he is also involved with a study by Penn State University observing a few groups of local beehives. 

This study is tracking the effectiveness of mite control in various groups of hives. 

There are 3 different locations for this project. Each location has about 12-15 hives divided into 3 groups. One group of hives is conventionally treated for mites with chemicals, another group is organically treated for mites with a natural product, and the third group is not treated at all.

The goal of this study is to see how the hives compare according to each treatment, and which hives are the most successful and healthy. 

Elam says, “it is very plain to see that the untreated hives are suffering the most and have lost many more bees due to mites.”

But how exactly do mites negatively impact the health of the bees?

Elam explains it like this,” A mite attached to a bee is like having a bug the size of a dinner plate attached to you!” 

The mites attach to and feed from the bee, in doing this it weakens the bee’s immune system and their natural resistance to disease. 

Over time the bees become weaker and weaker and eventually are killed by disease or in most cases they simply are not healthy enough to make it through the cold winter months. 

This is sad, yes, but the good news is there is something that beekeepers can do!

Elam says the other two treated hives are doing equally well! The natural mite treatment works just as well as the chemical treatment. However, the natural treatment has the added benefits of being safer for the bees, the environment, and if needed, it is also safe to add when there is honey in the hive. 

Elam uses two kinds of mite treatment on their hives called “Apiguard” and “Mite Away Quick Strips.” 

The active ingredient in Apiguard is thymol gel, thymol is derived from the thyme plant and it is natural and non-toxic. The active ingredient in Mite Away Quick Strips is formic acid. These strips are certified for use in organic beekeeping and they are biodegradable!

While organic mite treatment can be applied when honey is in the hive, it actually is not the most optimal time. These mite treatments work best when honey is not in the hive because of the cycle of the bee’s brood stages. 

Fun Fact: A bee brood refers to the eggs, larvae, and pupae of the honey bees. This is the future generation of the hive!

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Protecting the future generation of honey bees is critically important. Just like a farmer, honey bees and pollinators of all types help to ensure food is readily available to humans.

At only 16 years old Elam Beiler has learned invaluable lessons through his study of bees and beekeeping.

Elam says, “Everything that I have learned about bees, I have learned through participating in the Penn State Project. It is great working with bees, they are amazing creatures! Taking care of the bees is important because they do a lot of pollinating of crops and flowers. They also make honey which is a healthy and important food source.”

When you look out at the pasture on Beiler Family Farm you will see many little bees buzzing around from flower to flower. The pastures not only provide food for the many farm animals but also for the bees. And in return, the bees give back by doing their part in pollinating the plants.

The bees are good for the farm, and the farm is good for the bees!

So the next time you reach for that jar of delicious Beiler farm honey, you can be sure that much thought and care, for the bees and the environment, is the reason behind its production. 

Enjoy the food,

Sara

Fun Fact #2: Currently, the farm is selling clover honey. This is because clover was the bee’s available food source earlier in the season when the 1st batch of honey was collected. As the season progresses the bees have a wider variety of flowers to feed on and the next batch will be wildflower honey! 

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