By Lauren Wanko
Veteran beekeeper Mary Kosenski inspects her hives and hopes for a better year for her bees. This past winter marked the worst season ever for E & M Gold Beekeepers.
“Last year we had a terrible setback and lost a much higher percentage. About 50 percent of all of our bees were lost in the winter for no particular reason,” said Kosenski, owner and partner of E & M Gold Beekeepers.
Statewide this past winter the honeybee population dropped by 28 percent, a substantial loss says state apiarist Tim Schuler. One of the main culprits? The varroa mite. The Kosenskis suspect the mite was responsible for their bee loss.
“As the varroa mite feeds on a honey bee, it decreases its lifespan. So one of things that I see is colonies that dwindle down to say 500 to 1,000 bees over the course of the winter because the varroa mites were not properly controlled,” explained Schuler.
Schuler says honeybees are vital to the Garden State. New Jersey’s 10,000 bee colonies represent a $2.5 million honeybee industry for the state and contribute to the production of nearly $200 million worth of fruits and vegetables.
“Crops like blueberries, cranberries, apples, cucumbers, squash, watermelons, cantaloupes, pumpkins, strawberries. These are all crops in New Jersey that utilize honey bee population,” Schuler said.
And the business of bees is just as important to New Jersey’s 3,000 registered beekeepers.
E & M Gold Beekeepers manage 15 different bee yards in Monmouth County. In their Tinton Falls location, they lost half of their hives this past winter and they’ve spent $5,000 making repairs.
“We bought packaged bees from several different sources and established new bee yards and then eventually re-queened those with our own bee stock. But the cost did cut into our profits substantially,” Kosenski said.
This is a full time job for the Kosenskis. One the sweetest parts of the gig? The honey. The husband and wife team uncap the frames of honey on a machine. Next they spin the honey frames in an extractor. The honey is strained into buckets and eventually bottled. Nothing is wasted. The wax cappings are transformed into wax candles. And demand for the products is high, especially for weddings.
“I think it’s 60 percent of all of our sales is in the favors,” Kosenski said.
The Kosenskis began treating their honey production hives with organic treatment. Now they’re counting on a cold winter to keep the bees clustered in their hives and eating their stored honey for a successful coming year.