Beekeeping is buzzing in Utah

Beekeeping is buzzing in Utah

According to the website Mental Floss and the Utah County Beekepers Association, honeybees are among the most fascinating creatures in the world. On a typical summer day, each will travel over three miles before returning home after depositing and collecting material from over 100 flowers. Their wings flap an amazing 11,400 times per minute. They are the only insect that makes food suitable for humans – the only food that includes everything needed to sustain life. They are responsible for pollinating $20 billion worth of food each year – up to 80 percent of the country’s crops.

The honeycombs they build from their own secretions are engineering marvels – six-sided structures each at a precise 120-degree angle. The “glue” holding it together is used as a treatment for everything from canker sores to eczema. Honeybees’ venom can ease rheumatoid arthritis pain and is being studied as a possible HIV preventative, and their brains are being studied as a possible cure for dementia for their ability to actually stop and reverse the aging process.

It takes 300 of them flying a combined 55,000 lifetime miles to make just one pound of honey, which when multiplied by 285 million equals the amount Americans consume every year.

Yet for all the wondrous things they do and create, honeybees are in serious trouble today. After years of exposure to pesticides, insecticides, pollution, cell phone radiation and poor nutrition, their numbers are slowly dwindling. Many are even so stressed, they lose their will to return to their hives.

“Beekeepers lost 40% of their hives last year,” says Lee Knight while driving on a cold November day in Utah. It is the off-season for Lee and his family-owned business, Knight Family Honey. “It’s death by a thousand cuts.”

For these and other reasons, beekeeping has become one of the most popular hobbies in the country.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, commercial bee producers are responsible for about 60% of the honey produced each year.

The practice of beekeeping has been traced back more than 15,000 years. Bee hives are common in many of the excavated tombs of Egyptian royalty as well.

Renewing a family tradition

Knight left his job as a garage door installer in 2001 after coming across an old photograph of his great-grandparents practicing their craft. Learning about what his beloved relatives did inspired him to start his business and plunge full-time into beekeeping.

Lee’s great grandparents practicing their beekeeping craft.


Today, Lee travels as far as 100 miles across Utah – dubbed the “Beehive State” – to tend to Knight Family Honey’s apiary of more than 500 bee colonies. He started off with just two small colonies in 2001. During the summer months he sells his honey and locally renowned “Honey Butter” at local farmers’ markets. While a majority of beekeepers are in the business to produce and sell honey and beeswax, entrepreneurs like Knight generate most of their income from “renting” their bees during a very short season to the California’s San Joaquin Valley farmers, who use the bees to pollinate everything from almond trees and raspberries to apples, carrots and onions. The bees arrive in wooden cases on flatbed trucks from all over the country just after honey harvesting around Labor Day.

Lee also takes a great deal of pride sharing his experience and teaches classes to as many as 150 budding beekeepers in the area during summer months. It’s relatively easy to get started as a beekeeper; commonly used equipment includes woodware such as frames for honeycombs and bee boxes, smokers, feeder buckets to hold sugar syrup and oils, and faucets and jars to drain out and hold the honey.

 

Lee shares his experience and teaches classes to as many as 150 budding beekeepers in the area during summer months.


Minding the bees

Knight waxes philosophically when he ponders the plight of his beloved bees. “The honeybee is just like a canary,” he says of the bird coal miners use to detect the presence of poisonous gases or lack of oxygen. “The fact that we’re seeing so many of them dwindling is a definite sign we as a planet need to change.

“People think they’re saving the bees by becoming beekeepers, but that’s not necessarily true,” he adds. “It’s a good thing to tend to these wonderful creatures, but if the human race wants to truly save them, the best thing we can do is stop using toxic chemicals to treat our crops and re-forest the flowers and other plants the bees need to make this wonderful honey.”

 

Lee and his wife selling raw honey and honey butter.

 

 

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