Although Valentine’s Day passed a couple of weeks ago, honey was still the topic of discussion at the weekly meeting of the Perry Kiwanis. Curt Bronnenberg of Spring Valley Honey Farms visited the club’s lunchtime gathering to discuss raising honey bees, pollination and processing honey and wax.
Bronnenberg said he learned beekeeping from his father, who bought out Jake Jessop’s apiary on Pine Street in Perry.
Bronnenberg said when he graduated from high school he went to college for a year but did not care for it, so he came back to Perry and started raising bees.
He said this is now the beginning of the bee season. Currently, he has several thousands of honey bees in California, pollinating almond trees. Almonds require insect pollination or pollination transfer in order to mature, Bronnenberg said.
Almond production in California has increased from 150,000 to 850,000 acres, and the price of almonds is currently high enough to make it profitable, he said.
Bronnenberg explained that other bees, insects and even animals also pollinate plants. The benefit of honey bees is that they are very controllable.
Honey bees are not native to North America. There are 20,000 species of bees in the world, including 4,000 in North America. White settlers brought honey bees from Europe.
Honey bees do not know how to pollinate tomato or egg plant flowers. They also are poor pollinators of pumpkins, watermelons, blueberries and cranberries. Other native species of bees do a more efficient job with this New World plants.
The number of professional bee keepers has declined, making it now a good time for beekeepers to lease out their hives for pollination. It is tough to get a hive of honey bees to make it through the winter, so it is beneficial to transfer hives to California during the winter season in order to pollinate crops in that state.
The bees are transferred on open flatbed trucks with a net placed over them. Bee hives put out a lot of heat, and they must be left on open-topped trucks or they will get too hot and kill off the hive.
Bronnenberg said he will have bees coming back over a few days in several shipments.
Bees need carbohydrates and protein to survive, he said. He feeds his bees a special supplement that looks like dough.
He has 4,000 colonies of bees two miles south of town. He also has 85 other locations where he keeps bees, including Fort Dodge, Dayton, Des Moines, Sac City, Guthrie Center and Panora by rivers.
Bees need rough terrain in order to survive. They need wooded areas and hay and pasture areas. They do not survive on land that has corn and soybeans.
As more and more land has housing built upon it and more land is used for corn and soybean production, it makes it harder for bees to have the habitat that they need to survive.
In 1990, bees faced a threat with the Varroa Mite. It was brought in from another part of the world. This mite cannot be seen by the human eye but would be the equivalent of a person having a tick the size of a fist on them. Over time this parasite will kill off a hive. There was no publicity about this mite.
From approximately 2006 to 2008, there arose deaths of many honey bee hives. The cause was never clearly determined. This became highly publicized, politicized and sensationalized in the media and was known as colony collapse disorder.
One good thing about this is that it caused a resurgence of bee keeper hobbyists.
Bees traveling in California face many inspection issues and regulations The fear in California is that the bees will transfer parasites to other areas of the state. A big fear is the transfer of ants. Sometimes ant hills will form under hives and be transported to other areas. In such cases, the hives are often burned in place or transported in covered trucks, which kills the hives.
Bronnenberg said honey bees are now in the best shape they have been in 30 to 35 years.
He talked about the three types of bees. A female queen, male drones and female workers. Queens must mate with the drones in flight and may mate with 35 drones at a time. Once a hive feels that a queen needs to be replaced, the hive will designate an egg to be the new queen and replace the existing queen. The workers feed the eggs different foods which causes them to become queens, drones, or workers.
Hives produce honey and wax. As the English writer Jonathan Swift said, bees produce sweetness and light.
Bronnenberg said no bacteria can grow in the presence of honey, and some sources claim that it heals burns.
Bronneberg sells most of the honey that his hives produce in 55-gallon drums. He bottles a little, but he said it is not cost effective to sell his own honey on a larger scale. One of his biggest buyers was the Dahl’s grocery store chain, which went out of business.
He now sells honey at the Perry Hy-Vee and at a place in Ames. A lot of Bronnenberg’s honey is bought by very small producers who cannot make enough honey for their demand from their hives.
The major honey producers heat their honey to a high temperature, which affects its taste and appearance. Small producers do not heat their honey.