Martin Posse founded his urban apiary, New Horizons, in 2015. Since then the Ijamsville beekeeper, who studied his craft extensively at a farming high school and kept hives in his native country of Argentina, has worked to solve his bees’ problems.
“I know how to handle bees, but how to keep the bees 20 years later and here (in the United States) is completely different,” he said.
Problems here in Maryland include a relatively short flowering season, rain that washes away pollen, and the prevalence of crops like corn, soybeans and straw not allowed to flower, as well as our ubiquitous grass lawns—all offering no food for the honeybees. “I always say, ‘Why do we have green grass when we can have green clover? … Let it go to flower and that will produce plenty of nectar,” Posse said.
With bees playing a big part in our food production as our most efficient pollinator, Posse noted, “bees need community support.”
And then there are the varroa mites that are especially threatening to hives weakened by a shortage of food. Twenty years ago in Argentina, these mites were a minor problem, Posse said. Today in the U.S., “we lose 60 to 75 percent of the hive every year to mites.”
Posse belongs to the Frederick County Beekeeping Association. “Everybody has these kinds of problems,” he said. “Every year we are rebuilding just to keep the numbers up.”
While he is not exactly “in the clover” with his bees yet, Posse loves beekeeping. “It is amazing to look at them … and understand what everybody’s doing, what’s happening inside the hive, why things are the way they are. … The society that they have, the way that they operate as a group is incredible,” he said.
Most of the time, honeybees are sweet creatures. “This is a very nice bug to work with,” Posse said. “They’re not nasty to you. … You can touch them.”
If there’s a problem within the hive—a failing queen, not enough food or some other stressor—the honeybees do become angry, and Posse knows that’s when he has to suit up to try to fix things within the hive. August can be one of the angry months for bees because of the shortage of food. “Problems come when they’re not busy and all just hanging out like a bad neighborhood,” Posse said.
But this is not the norm. Most of the time, a beekeeper can pick up a frame full of bees, walk a ways to hold it up to the sun, and the bees don’t care. Posse said he can even pick up a queen with his bare hand, and nothing happens. “This is not an aggressive bug,” he emphasized.
In recent years, there has been much talk about losing the honeybee to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), perhaps caused by certain pesticides. “They don’t know what happened, but it stopped happening and we don’t lose many hives to CCD anymore,” Posse said. Beekeepers, he added, work hard to keep their hives clean. “What happens with chemicals is that they bring it inside the hive and it becomes an environment where they cannot survive, but we do a lot of replacement of the wax inside the hive to keep it clean and that helps.”
Each year, beekeepers grow bees. In this area, many hives do not survive the winter. “I ended up my winter with three hives from 40 last year,” Posse said. This year he grew those three hives into 30 by August.
“As long as we have beekeepers, we will have bees,” Posse said.
He wants to share the magic and struggle of beekeeping with others. New Horizons Apiaries & Farm, located at 2738 Loch Haven Dr. in Ijamsville, offers a hands-on beekeeping workshop where participants can learn about and experience the work of beekeeping before investing resources in establishing their own hives. “There’s glamour about being a beekeeper,” Posse said, “but let me tell you when you have to go out in 90 degrees wearing (clothing) like you’re going out in winter, let me tell you it’s not glamourous, you’re all wet, you don’t like yourself—so you need to see that before you put your money behind it.”
And if workshop participants find they don’t like beekeeping enough, there are other ways to support the bees. You can participate in New Horizons’ Adopt a Hive program or purchase New Horizons award-winning honey through its website, www.newhorizonsapiaries.com.
Honey can be shipped or picked up. If you go to pick up your honey, make sure to make time to speak to the beekeeper.
“I don’t know what it is with the bees, but to me it’s like magic,” Posse said. “My God, I’ve had the best times.”