Sale Creek Honey Co.

 

Sale Creek is located in the Tennessee River valley, between Chattanooga and Knoxville, at the foot of the Cumberland Mountains.  East Tennessee is home to well over 100 species of trees.  It is the hardwood forests that provide the nectar and pollen that sustain our honeybees.  A

list of these trees includes the many varieties of maple, elm, redbud, willow, service berry, sassafras, black cherry, black gum, black locust, honey locust, huckleberry, farkleberry, tulip poplar, holly, privet, persimmon, sumac, basswood and sourwood.  Tree roots have access to many layers of subsoil, so they can contribute a broad spectrum of minerals to the nectar and pollen.  Add to that list of trees, the plants which grow around the edges of the woods where there is more sunlight, such as blackberry, dewberry, vetch and kudzu, and you will have honey and pollen blended together from a wide variety of sources.  We are fortunate in that there is very little row cropping done here anymore.  By placing our bees out of flight range of the farming areas, we can avoid exposure to both pesticides and genetically modified crops.

    By now, most everyone is familiar with what has been labeled Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  There is no question that much of the problem is directly caused by the two parasitic mites, and their associated viruses, that came here from Europe and Asia in the l980s.  In our opinion, CCD is caused not only by mites, but is also simply the result of too many sources of stress on the bees, some of which are actually common commercial beekeeping practices.  Many beekeepers will rob all of a hive’s honey at the end of the season, and then feed them corn syrup to live on during the winter.  In the spring they will feed pollen substitute, which is mostly soybean meal, brewer’s yeast, powdered milk, and dried egg yolk.  The simple fact is, bees were meant to eat honey and pollen.  Feeding them corn syrup, sugar syrup and pollen substitute will result in malnutrition.  Any creature that does not get the nutrients it needs will be more susceptible to parasites, bacteria, viruses, etc.

    Other equally objectionable practices would include the use of highly toxic synthetic chemicals – coumaphos, amitraz and fluvalinate – to control mites.  When used in the recommended dosage, these insecticides will not kill the bees outright, but who can say what effect they have on the health and lifespan of the bees?  Most beekeepers also feed their hives antibiotics twice a year, whether they have a bacterial infection or not.

    During the first hive inspection in the late winter, you may see quite a bit of difference in colony population.  Some colonies barely survive and others are overflowing with bees.  If you will watch the vigorous hives closely during the spring, there is a good chance they will start raising new queens in preparation to swarm.  This is the only time the bees raise queens because they want to; any other time it is because they have to.  Starting a new colony with one of these swarm-raised queens on natural cell size combs which they build themselves, will probably result in a colony as vigorous as the parent colony.

    Many of Sale Creek Honey’s colonies have been converted back from commercial larger sized to natural cell size combs and do not receive any mite treatments.  These colonies still have some winter mortality, but the rate is no higher than the colonies yet to be converted from the commercial cell size combs.  The mites in those colonies are controlled with essential oils, such as wintergreen. We do not use antibiotics in any of our hives.  To have a bacterial infection, the pathogen must be present and there has to be a breakdown of the colony’s immune system.  If we encounter a bacterial infection, which hasn’t happened in six years, the colony is burned.  To try to salvage the colony with antibiotics would be perpetuating a colony that doesn’t pass the test of natural resistance.

    For the time being, we have decided not to pursue organic certification.  According to a certifying agency I spoke to recently, there currently are no guidelines for certification specifically for honeybees, and therefore, USDA is using the guidelines developed for cattle.  So, if we get our six acres in Sale Creek certified organic, then the honey we produce there can be labeled certified organic.

    The problem with that is that a beehive’s flight range covers about 8000 acres, so far less than 1%  of our crop would actually be produced on our certified land.  As you can see, the livestock guidelines are not appropriate for honeybees.  If cows could fly, things would be different.  The land that produces our honey is forest land, on which commercial fertilizers, chemicals and genetically modified organisms are not used.  The specifications also allow the beekeeper to use antibiotics twice a year.  In the future, if USDA develops guidelines specifically for honeybees, we will apply for certification.


Special thanks to:


Gary Carter for being the first to point out how fascinating a colony of honeybees is.

Henry Savely for giving me my first beehive.

Hoyt Bonds for pointing out that I should think like a bee.

Ashley Barker for turning over his shop tools to me before I could afford my own.

Don Benefield for being such a good neighbor.

Dee and Ed Lusby for figuring out the importance of natural cell size combs.

Gunther Hauk for giving me a different perspective.

All the other beekeepers I have known, too numerous to mention, most of whom I have learned something from.


Eddie McKenzie