It’s been five months since Rhode Island beekeeper Everett Zurlinden arrived on the Island to teach prospective beekeepers how to keep hives, and at the Living Local Harvest Festival last weekend he had an apiary report card to share.
There was good news and bad news, Mr. Zurlinden said. The status of the invasive vero mite, queen honeybee quality issues and honeybee temperament are all areas of concern, but the veteran beekeeper said the biggest question centers on how many honeybees one small Island can support.
He said the average honeybee will forage in a two-and-a-half-mile radius, so a backyard garden is not large enough. If bees cannot find food within the two and a half miles, they can go as far as five miles.
With an increasing number of backyard beekeepers on the Island, Mr. Zurlinden and commercial beekeepers here are considering whether there are enough flowers to go around.
“This is a really big concern and we can’t take this too lightly,” he said. “We can’t just all have bees, so we’re thinking about that.”
As for the performance of individual beekeepers here, Mr. Zurlinden gave them high marks. Bee colonies were thriving when Mr. Zurlinden returned two weeks ago to survey hives, and Vineyard beekeepers who had previously lost bees within a few weeks of establishing the colonies on their property had found success this time around.
And because all beekeeping is local, he said techniques used to raise bees on the Vineyard differ from his honeybee territory on the mainland.
“You have a great fall compared to what I have [in Rhode Island] and that works to your advantage because the blooms of the goldenrod and the asters go much longer,” he said. “It’s the goldenrod and aster bloom that’s so critical to winter survival, that’s the food source the bees get for the winter — so you have that. Your disadvantage is the spring — your spring comes later. The bees are dormant for so long they have a sluggish start-up period in the months of March and April.”
He spoke about the vero mite, an invasive parasite that has wiped out huge colonies of native honeybees, and about an even bigger enemy to the honeybee.
“The biggest killer of honeybees is the beekeeper,” he said.
Mr. Zurlinden will direct another beekeeping workshop on the Island in February to address issues found in the past few months through Island Grown Bees, a program operated under the Island Grown Initiative. Topics will include the possibility of communal hives, where five or six people would share colonies, and a hive registry.
Paul Goldstein’s study of the native pollinator population on the Vineyard also will provide useful information for beekeeping on the Island, Mr. Zurlinden said. “We’ll see what next year’s learning brings us,” he concluded.
Held on Friday night and throughout the day and evening on Saturday on a weekend with warm, summer-like weather, the harvest festival attracted hundreds of people to attend workshops on an array of useful topics for sustainable living. Chilmark selectman and small fishing advocate Warren Doty demonstrated how to fillet a fish. Blue ribbon composters Paul Jackson, Philippe Morin and Rebecca Gilbert presented their techniques to an overflow crowd. Kris Henriksen offered her wisdom on growing native plants. There was a demonstration on how to grow a Vineyard lawn.
And there was plenty to eat, from the unusual to the outright hearty and delicious. Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary offered an array of wild edibles including sumac-ade and tart autumn olive leather. Tiasquin Orchards in West Tisbury offered slices of their apples. Long lines formed for Beetlebung Farm’s lamb and pork burgers and the Farm Institute’s farm-raised beef chili.
“Our purpose in this event and what we do in the guise of living local is to promote and celebrate sustainable living on the Vineyard,” said festival organizer and Vineyard Conservation Society board member Tad Crawford.
“We’re hoping you’ll go home with concrete specific ideas about what you can do with your own lives and what you can do in this community to ensure that we are increasingly self-sufficient. We have a lot to learn from people who live close to the land.”
The festival ended Saturday with a community potluck where Vineyard home cooks showcased their considerable talent. Vegetable lasagna, smoked chicken, green bean and tomato salad, chicken noodle soup and kale salad were not to be outdone by old-fashioned homemade apple pies.
Then it was onto the dance floor for a calypso square dance with the Beetlebung Steel Band. Dancers swapped partners and ended up on the wrong side of the square without a care as they do-si-doed the night away.