When their wings wear out
By: Sharon Zondag, NCC Resident Beekeeper,
Beekeeping for me began when I was in high school in 1970 watching my Dad get started with his own hives. Within a short time he had over 100 hives in 10 different beeyards all over the Susquehanna Valley in Upstate New York. During all my return visits to see my parents, I took for granted that I would “see” Dad’s bees too.
Every hive has over 60,000 honeybees, mostly worker bees, and I was very happy after dinner with my parents to take a cup of tea out to the bees and watch their magical industry up close and personal. Coming and going, coming and going. All that pollen, all that unseen nectar and all that energy. I was quietly enamored and in awe of their unabated “working like a bee” lives.
My father explained that a bee's short summer life of five weeks ended when their wings wore out and they could no longer forage. He said, somewhat wistfully, “I hope that is what happens for me”. In 2010 it occurred to me on one of those visits that I should like to have my own bees one day. I would miss them if my Dad was gone and I better get started if I wanted to learn from a beekeeper of 40 years' experience. I realized that they quite simply don’t make beekeepers like my Dad any longer.
My beekeeping life began with hives as the resident beekeeper at NCC in 2012. The bees came from my Dad and since then I have had dozens of hives as part of the Community Garden project started by Professor Allen in 2011. As beekeepers we lose over 40% of our hives in Pennsylvania each year. But, like a worker bee, we just keep at it. Replacing hives with swarms, or packages of bees imported from Georgia or local nuclear hives we purchase. What I could never put a price on is my Dad’s wisdom and knowledge. At 91 ½ he is still an active beekeeper and still my number one mentor. Dad’s wings are still beating strong and people drive from all over New York State to hear his stories, listen to his advice and to buy his bees. Everything else is for free.
Northampton Community College's East 40 Community Garden is blooming with an orchard, vineyard, beehives, compost area, flowers and an outdoor classroom. It is a place where gardeners from the College and the larger community are coming together to experience service learning, sustainable gardening, ecological awareness, and healthy living.
During the warmer months of the year, students from all majors have a chance to apply what they have learned in the classroom to an environment outside of the classroom. NCC's Good Growers student club has been extremely active over the past several years, holding summer workdays and even camping out at the garden site while making plans for the garden's expansion.
The community can take part in helping to cultivate the garden by participating in a non-credit course. For a small fee and participation in a one-session class, gardeners will be assigned a 8-by-10- foot plot, with gardening equipment provided by the College. For more information about East 40 and how you can get involved, contact Kelly Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org.