By Clifford Hart
Photos: Courtesy of Fox Farm Apiary
But that battle pales in comparison to the struggles of modern-day beekeepers, who have to contend with much worse than the likes of marauding bears. No, their challenge is to do whatever they can to keep the hive alive.
“A few decades ago, beekeeping was something you could almost do in your sleep,” explained Chris Layman, who with his wife, Lisa, runs the Hudson Valley–based Fox Farm Apiary. “Now, if you don’t pay close attention, your bees probably don’t stand a chance, and the principal reasons for that are lack of proper nutrition and Varroa viruses.”
We were walking across the flat, verdant field that makes up the bulk of the 60-acre Thorn Preserve southeast of the town of Woodstock. Bordered by the Sawkill River and nestled under the undulating slopes of Overlook Mountain, the wide expanse had a peaceful solemnity to it—hardly the place I might’ve expected to hear dire warnings about the earth’s ecology.
Like most other invasive species, the mites came from overseas and are the carriers of viruses that contribute to colony collapse disorder—a devastating development that can cause hives to go from buzzing to silent—seemingly overnight. Compounding the mite issue is the lack of forage due to forest encroachment and modern agricultural practices.
For the last five years, the Thorn Preserve, which is owned by the Catskill Interpretive Center in partnership with Woodstock Land Conservancy, has represented an important outpost for Fox Farm Apiary, whose own base of operations is a farm some 40 miles to the northeast in Hannacroix. At the far end of the field, along the wood line, a solar electric fence protects a small collection of hives on bluestone foundations, some with burnished copper tops, making it look more like an outdoor art installation than a farming operation.
“Bees are extraordinary creatures and have evolved with humans over millennia,” Lisa remarked as we walked among the hives. “They are able to transform plant nectar into honey, to create beeswax from special glands in their bodies and to alchemically transform tree resins into propolis.” This sticky resin performs many functions in the hive, most importantly as the honeybee super organism’s immune system, making the hive the most sterile environment in nature.
As Chris scraped a small propolis sample off an old hive and I popped it into my mouth, Lisa explained how the human body can benefit from its many medicinal qualities and that the resin was once part of every doctor’s kit. Lisa went on to tell me that these bee-created products, from honey to beeswax to propolis and more, form the basis of the wide range of innovative products she creates and sells under the Fox Farm Apiary label.
Taking it all in, I found it hard not to develop a profound appreciation for honeybees and also for the extraordinary work of Chris and Lisa Layman, who are doing everything they can to assist the bevy of creatures who in turn assist in plant fertilization. Indeed, their tireless efforts throughout the Hudson Valley made me think their actions resemble those of the very creatures they are striving to protect.
For more information on Fox Farm Apiary and their products, and to learn about upcoming events, go to www.foxfarmapiary.com. █