Saturday, July 9, 2011

My Buffalo News Interview on BeeKeeping

Last week the Buffalo News' Anne Neville interviewed myself and my beekeeping mentor, Steve Mead, about the fine art and science of bees.  The article turned out really nice!  Great photo by Robert Kirkham of the Buffalo News as well.  Enjoy!  (article below and link to online version here: )

Eric Kancar, dressed in his protective beekeeping gear, tends to the hives in East Aurora.
Robert Kirkham / Buffalo News

Updated: July 8, 2011, 2:58 PM
Eric and Sarah Kancar live on a 3.5-acre hobby farm in East Aurora with two horses, eight cats, two dogs, a small flock of chickens and a spoiled potbellied pig adopted from the SPCA. In the spring, their animal census increased by 3,000 to 5,000 when a buzzing, three-pound package of bees arrived from an apiary in Ohio.
The bees, complete with a hardy Russian queen, arrived in early May to replace the colony of bees that had not survived the winter, Kancar's first as a beekeeper.
Although last year's colony filled the hive with heavy deposits of beeswax and honey, the bees died off after their finely honed, intuitive system was disrupted by a series of natural events that included a swarm, when the hive splits in two and half the bees fly off with a queen.
Kancar found the loss of his colony sad and disappointing, but as he narrated events on the blog he writes about his farm ( it was clear that he was hooked.
Kancar is not alone. The buzz is growing about these fascinating insects, which not only produce honey and beeswax but serve a vital role in pollinating fruits, berries and flowers. Across the country, hives have popped up everywhere, from suburban backyards to big-city rooftops, including on the South Lawn of the White House.
"Pardon the really bad joke, but beekeeping is a pretty sweet deal," says Philip Barr, who builds and sells Kenyan top bar hives. "I have never tasted honey as good as my own."
"There's a definite increase in the amount of urban beekeeping," says Steve Mead, who has 20 hives on his farm in East Concord and is vice president of the Western New York Honey Producers Association. "A lot of cities and towns have passed ordinances allowing beekeeping, which previously might have been illegal."
Barr, pointing out that in the spring of 2010, New York City lifted its ban on beekeeping, says, "The trend nationally is going toward, 'Yes, please keep bees.'"
Despite the growing interest in beekeeping, all is not well in the apian world. Bee populations have been devastated by the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been blamed on everything from a virus or mites to pesticides or climate change. "Bees are the canary in the coal mine," says Barr. Because of the seriousness of the situation -- by some estimates, 30 percent of bees that should survive over a winter have died in recent years -- the Canadian government this week announced a $244,000 grant to the Ontario Beekeepers Association to create a plan to deal with the dramatic decline in honeybee colonies.
But another way of responding to the crisis is to encourage beekeeping, one hive at a time.
"Keeping bees doesn't need to be a huge operation, it can be very small," says Patti Jablonski-Dopkin, general manager of Urban Roots in Buffalo. "Your hive can be just big enough to pollinate the plants you need them to take care of and still help the environment as a whole."
Local beekeepers were encouraged to note that the Buffalo City Charter that regulates agriculture does not contain any mention of beekeeping. But when asked about the legality of beekeeping in the city, mayoral spokesman Mike DeGeorge forwarded a section of the City Charter titled "Infestation and screening," which says, "Grounds, buildings and structures shall be maintained free of insects, vermin and rodent harborage and infestation."
Corporation Counsel Timothy A. Ball says, "The section does prohibit harboring insects (including bees)," and recommended that anyone who wanted to legally keep bees would have to approach the City Council to amend the ordinance.
"There are bees in the city anyhow, living in trees and flying all over," says Mead. "It's not like you can say they can't be there -- they already are there."
Old-fashioned ways
In addition to supporting the environment and enjoying honey and beeswax, new beekeepers can find themselves almost entranced by the industrious action of the thousands of bees who go about their daily routine, collecting pollen, building honeycomb, caring for the queen and the young.
Kancar felt it when he stepped into his first bee yard at Steve and Cindy Mead's Never-Rest Farm.
"Something about it seemed so magical, as though I was stepping back in time, witnessing something that has been going on for millions of years," says Kancar of the action he called "chaotic yet organized." He saw "hundreds of thousands of bees flying into the same small plot of earth, all looking as though there was no rhyme or reason to what they were doing, but I knew that they were highly organized and each had a purpose. ... And the buzz was deafening and mesmerizing."
Mead, who has been keeping bees for six years and now has about 20 hives, started by joining the Western New York Honey Producers group, whose meetings attract everyone from commercial honey-producers to people with one rooftop or backyard hive, as well as some bee fans who don't have any hives.
"Some have been keeping bees for 30 or 40 years, some have 400, 500 or 600 hives, some have an interest but don't have the space or the ability to have bees, so it runs the gamut," he says.
In the group, Mead found what new beekeepers need, even more than the hive tool used to pry apart the parts of a hive or the smoker that calms the bees before working with them.
He found mentors.
Advice from experienced beekeepers is "really critical," Mead says, "because you can only learn so much from books, especially keeping bees. People say, 'The first year I had so many questions!' and I say, 'When you get to the second year, you'll realize that you didn't even know what questions to ask!' No two hives act the same, and no two seasons are the same."
As he was guided when he was starting out, Mead now mentors Kancar, responding with advice and even visits in times of crisis, such as the unexpected swarm that probably caused the death of the first colony at Kancar's Czar of the Woods Farm. "Any time I have ever had a question or an issue, Steve has been there to answer or help me out firsthand," says Kancar. "He is a textbook of knowledge and has seen most anything that can happen with bees."
Kancar enjoys the person-to-person sharing of beekeeping knowledge. "It is such an old trade and it makes sense that knowledge is passed on in such an old-fashioned way, from one person to another," he says.
This winter, the Western New York Honey Producers Association will offer a two-part beginner beekeeper class, with a classroom day in January followed in May by a gathering where students will "be able to get their hands into a hive of bees and see what it's all about," says Mead. To sign up, go to the groups' website,
Rain and hives 
 The cold winter and wet, chilly spring stressed many bees, and many colonies died, local beekeepers say. "We had a lot of cold weather late in the year -- we had zero temperatures in March," Mead says. "The weather warmed up and the bees started really rolling and producing their brood, and then it started to rain. It didn't stop for -- well, it hasn't stopped yet, really." Bees do not fly in the rain, and prolonged rainy periods affect the blossoms on which the bees rely, he says.
"Almost nobody's bees made it through this winter; it was a really tough winter," says Barr.
 The Kenyan or Tanzanian bar hives are an adaptation of an ancient hive design. They, along with the tall Langstroth hive, which looks like a filing cabinet, are the two main types of hives used today. The Kenyan style resembles a wooden feed trough. "It's very inexpensive to make if you have some scrap wood, easily managed and great for beginners," Barr says.
Some people hesitate to keep bees because they are afraid of being stung. But when a person is stung, honeybees are seldom to blame, say the beekeepers. "When people say they got stung by a bee, chances are they got stung by a yellow jacket or a bald-faced hornet, not a honeybee at all," says Mead. Barr, who has kept bees for three years, says, "In the management of my hives, I have never been stung. I have been stung doing removals, going into somebody's house and removing a hive, or sometimes I'd be walking around the backyard and step on a bee -- but that was my fault.
"Beekeeping is a very Zen art. You have to be calm and in tune with the bees. Using smoke and taking your time serves to mitigate the risk of being stung."
 Mead says that pop culture references to bees, from the novel and movie "The Secret Life of Bees" to the cartoon "The Bee Movie" have raised awareness of what he calls "the interesting little critters."
"The human race is very dependent on the work that bees do," says Kancar. "I love the idea that my bees are working hard to pollinate and do their part."
"There are so many fascinating things about bees, they are so incredibly intelligent," says Barr. "And if you're talking about trying to eat food produced locally, it doesn't get any more local than your own backyard."
 From noon to 3 p.m. July 23, Philip Barr will speak about natural beekeeping at Urban Roots, 428 Rhode Island St. He will also take questions and sell his handcrafted Kenyan top bar hives. Registration is not needed for this free workshop.
*******************POLLINATOR POINTERS
     To attract pollinators to flowering plants:
  •      Plant a variety of flowers that bloom different times of the year. Honeybees, bumblebees and many vertebrate pollinators are around throughout the growing season and into winter.
  •      Plant flowers in clumps. Clumping flowers increases the intensity of the fragrance and a pollinator's ability to locate it.
  •      Choose a variety of flower colors to attract a wide variety of pollinators; for example, butterflies like red, orange and yellow, while hummingbirds prefer purple, red and fuchsia.
  •      Select as many native and nonhybrid plants as possible; many hybrid flowers have their pollen, nectar and fragrance bred out of them. Check the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign and the Pollinator Partnership at and enter your ZIP code for an area-specific guide.
  •      Flower shapes matter, too. Butterflies and honeybees like to land before feeding and usually prefer flat, open flowers. Pollinators with long beaks and tongues, such as hummingbirds, like tubular flowers.
  •      Provide or build nesting structures for pollinators. Bird and bat houses, shrubbery, compost and piles of fallen branches and brush provide harborage for many pollinators.
  •      Never use pesticides or herbicides around a pollinator garden. Even organic pesticides can be potentially harmful.
  •     Beginning beekeeping:
  •     American Beekeeping Federation at
  •     Best beekeeping reading material includes Bee Culture and American Bee Journal, which cover practical beekeeping and bee research.
Daily Press, Newport News, Va.

1 comment:

Matt E said...


I saw the article in the paper. My mother was very excited for you and made sure to share it with me.

It sounds like you're having a good time with your farm. Glad to hear a fellow SFHS grad is doing well.


Matt Ersing '96

p.s. Here's a link to a BBC article I just ran into that you may find interesting.