Challenges remain, but apiculturists believe eastern Kentucky can fill growing U.S. demand for honey, wax and bees.
One of the things I remember most about my childhood was that my family had honey bee hives. My grandfather spent hours watching them work and usually had me alongside him. He showed me how important honey bees were to our ecosystem.
I also remember when we lost all the bees to mites. Bees once thrived in Appalachia’s diverse landscapes; however, the introduction of tracheal and varroa mites in the 1980s devastated bee populations, and they are still recovering.
With the dramatic loss of bee colonies from 1989-2008, nearly 32 percent, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Commerce felt that they could make Kentucky a viable source for honey production. The plan was to use reclaimed mining properties for hives and to plant bee friendly trees and flowers to encourage their growth and future success in the region. With coal mining jobs on the decline in Appalachia, it is vitally important that we look to other means to continue prosperity in the region.
Dr. Tammy Horn, director of Coal Country Beeworks at Eastern Kentucky University, recently received a special grant to continue investigation and assessment of native bee populations on reclaimed surface mining sites in Appalachia. Our hope is that this may be the return of the honey bee to Appalachia.