Bringing up bees with the Woolridges
A veteran honey producer has seen a major decline in the local bee population during his 40-year career.
Lewell Woolridge, of Bee Lovers Beekeeping in Paget, pointed to land development as the culprit.
“The bees don’t have the food sources they once had,” he said. “We have seen a serious decline in the amount of bee cloning in Bermuda.”
The bees’ favourite food sources Brazilian pepper trees, loquats, fiddlewood and Surinam cherry, are often the first trees to be chopped during building projects.
“When people build a house they don’t replace the trees they cut down,” Mr Woolridge said. “They might put in a hedge but they often have it trimmed before the bees can ever get to the flowers.”
Mr Woolridge has been working with bees for more than 40 years. His son, Lewell Woolridge Jr, started helping him when he was eight and now works with him full time. The duo maintain more than 100 hives across the island and sell their honey to grocery stores including Lindos and MarketPlace.
A major part of their business involves removing nuisance hives. They humanely collect the bees and then create a new hive in a better location.
Lewell Woolridge Jr said they would remove hives from just about anywhere.
“We have removed them from power lines, trees and roofs,” he said. “The most unusual place I have removed bees from was underneath a Belco transformer. They had to turn off the power lines and everything else before we could go up there.”
He said knowing how to climb is a critical beekeeper skill.
“Sometimes the bees swarm high,” he said.
He said one of the hardest places to remove bees from is cinder block, because it is difficult to gain access to them.
His father said sometimes people did not like the price of hive removal and tried spraying them with insecticide.
“Destroying bees is unnecessary,” Mr Woolridge said. “A lot of times when people call pest control to remove the bees, pest control tells them to call a beekeeper. They recognise how important the bees are.”
Mr Woolridge said it was in our own best interests to protect the bees.
“The main point of keeping bees is pollination, not really the honey,” Mr Woolridge said. “The bees help pollinate local plants and trees that help the island to stay green and cool. Pollination is also vital to the food production side of things.”
While some beekeepers start harvesting honey after Cup Match, the pair usually wait until November to make sure hurricane season is over.
“If you remove the honey and then there is a hurricane or a big storm that strips all the trees, then the bees have no food and will starve,” Mr Woolridge said.
Some people give their bees sugared water in this situation, but Mr Woolridge prefers to do things the natural way.
Bee Lovers Beekeeping also sell blocks of beeswax to local cosmetics makers, and decorative items made from beeswax. They bottle their honey and collect the beeswax from a workroom in their basement stocked with special equipment.
“I think we might have the most expensive operation in Bermuda because all the equipment we use is stainless steel,” Mr Woolridge said.
In recent years a parasite called the varroa mite has been hitting bees worldwide, weakening the bees and making hives more liable to collapse. The pest was this year discovered in Australia for the first time ever. To contain the outbreak Australian authorities have destroyed hundreds of hives.
But Mr Woolridge did not agree with that approach.
“If the mite has gotten into the wild bee population, then it will just keep coming back,” he said. “Destroying hives won’t do a thing.”
He saw a slight drop off in bees when the mites were first detected on the island a few years ago. But he thought that since that time the bees had been learning to fight off the parasites.
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