By Mary Legrand
May 13, 2011
Katonah resident Dennis “D.J.” Haverkamp grew up on a farm in Kansas where there was a “bee tree” from which honeybees would come and go all summer long from their quest to gather pollen.
Now, as a resident of Katonah, Mr. Haverkamp has returned to his roots caring for numbers of hives as part of his business, Bedford Bee Honeybee Service, which he began in 2007 in response to the honeybee die-off called colony collapse disorder.
A full-time estate manager, Mr. Haverkamp and a small team of helpers feel strongly that honeybees must be saved because of the importance of their mutually beneficial relationship with humans.
He believes one of the ways to keep these vital insects healthy is to raise honeybees for sale from the team’s local stock. “Traditionally, honeybees have been raised in the South by big industrial conglomerates that raise thousands and thousands of bees and then ship them around the country in three-pound packages” said Mr. Haverkamp, who feels colony collapse disorder may in part be caused by honeybees becoming much too genetically similar, not giving them the chance to adapt to their local areas.
“My little team and I are working to allow our bees to develop and to grow in a way that is conducive with our environment and our plants,” he said. “As part of that we’re raising young queen bees, and those then are ultimately developing into new colonies of bees. There are queens in varying stages of development.”
Mr. Haverkamp said he cares for 45 hives through Bedford Bee, “and probably another 45 new hives in varying stages of development.” Twelve more hives will be up and running soon at John Jay Homestead in Katonah, site of a beekeeping school, another project of Mr. Haverkamp and his team. Teaching others the basic skills needed to maintain healthy bees is critically important, he said, and the school, which began April 23, takes place every other week through Nov. 1, covering a wide range of subjects including hive building and set up, honeybee life cycle and diseases, honey harvesting and extraction, varroa mite detection and treatment and winter hive preparation, Workshops take place on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Registration is required.
The homestead location is perfect, Mr. Haverkamp said, in part because there are records of honeybees being kept at John Jay’s residence during his time. Honeybees were not native to North America and were brought by settlers, who valued them for their production of beeswax, which was used to make candles, the only source of light.
“During the revolutionary period, bees were kept in woven skeps, and so every time the honey and wax were harvested, that whole colony was destroyed,” Mr. Haverkamp said. “They took all that wax and any honey that was there.”
Mr. Haverkamp feels one of his major missions is to educate the public about the importance of the honeybee, in part by doing presentations and working with children and educators. “The reason the honeybee is so important to our nation’s food supply is that when we produce our food we produce a lot of it in big, monoculture fields,” he said. If I’m a watermelon grower in South Carolina, I may have 300 acres in watermelons. If we don’t put honeybees in that field, I will still get watermelons- there are natural pollinators- but the yield will be much, much lower. It’s all about producing more food in the acreage we have, raising the yield, so if we don’t have healthy honeybees the amount of food will be drastically reduced.”
Another of Mr. Haverkamp’s missions is educating people of all ages, but particularly children, not to fear honeybees, and also not to confuse them with other stinging insects such as wasps.
“The general public lumps all stinging insects into one big category, and unfortunately, because we have a lot of yellowjackets, wasps and hornets, many believe that honeybees are the same,” he said. “If I could educate the entire general public about the difference between wasps and honeybees, which are so beneficial and so benevolent that they should be cherished. Our public mind-set toward honeybees is not helping, partly because the press uses the words ‘killer bees’. So now people associate bees with being killers. We’re throwing our baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. We have to cherish honeybees and realize just how important they are.”
Mr. Haverkamp is a “big fan and believer in community and building community,” and what better model for group cooperation than a hive of honeybees. “Honeybees work together as a colony,” he said, “and the power of their survival is based on the fact that the bees work around a common goal and common purpose, a real life lesson for us as people. We often crave community and the sense of being one tribe, like a colony of bees is, and I think when we all work together and when people come together and work to a common mission there’s a real strength in that.”
Toward that end, Bedford Bee Honeybee Service for the past two months has sponsored a Record-Review listing of community theater productions. “Local theater should be celebrated,” Mr. Haverkamp said. “Local entertainment is powerful and wonderful. I know how much it enriches my life when I participate in it, so it’s a bit of a selfish reason that we’re running the schedule. Hopefully it will become a thing that people know is there and will drive folks to see some shows.”
Beekeeping has also proved valuable to Mr. Haverkamp for the personal relationships he’s formed through it. “I like the relationships I’ve been able to build through this, the people I’ve gotten to know and the ways their lives are being enriched,” he said. “The bees have become part of our family. For me to have been able to enrich someone else’s life by making that opportunity available to them is something I find particularly rewarding as well.”
Featured Picture: Liz Taggart, owner of Amba Farms, holds a wood chip burning smoker while D.J. opens a bee box. The smoke calms the bees and makes them easier and safer to handle.For More Information:
<< Back to Press