Intern Kaat Byrd Publishes Article

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2013/2014 intern Kaat Byrd published an article in the Kelley Beekeeping newsletter.  You can read the article on page 15.

Bee Thinking About

It Takes a Community to Raise Bees…& Beekeepers

by Kaat Byrd

The future generations of beekeepers are in our midst. Those inspired today and tomorrow will help to carry the torch in coming seasons as honeybee and pollinator stewardship evolves to overcome the challenges faced. They are seeking to develop their skills and to share with others; as we all work together learning to adapt to varied circumstances and topographies.

I had the great pleasure of meeting a vibrant and insightful beekeeper by the name of Kaat Byrd while I volunteered for the USAID Partners of the Americas Farmer to Farmer program at the end of last year. Kaat has been travelling and interning at bee farms near and far—learning more about bees and beekeepers at each of her stops along the way as she journeys on the path of creating her own beekeeping experiences.

Kaat has quite a unique perspective in that she is also a deaf beekeeper. Her interactions with bees and beekeepers she encounters share a distinct perspective. I have encouraged Kaat to share her unique perspective with Kelley Beekeeping readers. For indeed, though one may not hear the buzz, it is felt… an emotion that all beekeepers can relate to.

For four moons I lived on the enchanted island of Jamaica as a student of the Yerba Buena Farm and Apicultural School.

Through the Farmer-to-Farmer project, which is funded by USAID Partners of America, the Yerba Buena Farm and Apiculture School has been able to host professional beekeepers from all over the globe. These trainers volunteer to teach hundreds of beekeepers through trainings and workshops to explore solutions for the various circumstances and challenges that Jamaican beekeepers face. Each trainer brings their own expertise, whether it be treatment-free beekeeping, top-bar hive construction and management, survivor queen rearing, DIY equipment construction, habitat conservation, value- added products, marketing, and anything else that is important to know for practical and conscientious beekeeping.

Behind Yerba Buena Farms is Agape and Kwao Adams; who, so far, are the only known beekeepers in Jamaica implementing a treatment-free system in their apiaries. Their stock consists mostly of small dark bees from feral colonies gathered from local swarms and tree cut-outs. Agape and Kwao mainly work with top-bar hives, which, compared to the conventional Langstroth hives, has proven to be a cheaper and more accessible alternative for Jamaica. The training apiary of Yerba Buena Farm incorporates top- bar hives constructed with various materials such as woven wicker and bamboo, cloth, hemp bags, particle board as well as locally-sourced wood.

While traveling all over the island with three trainers, the impact of the exchange of knowledge was unmistakable. The eyes of Jamaican beekeepers, who have been struggling with hives filled with strong mites and weak bees, sparked as the trainers guided them through the methods of beekeeping that fosters naturally healthy bees. The island’s beekeepers are understanding the concept that, by using chemical treatments, they are using an un-sustainable solution that creates a weak bee. They are eagerly learning how to breed for a strong survivor stock that is disease and pest resistant. The vast potential and market of value-added products made from the hive’s medicines was also taught.

During the trainings there are lively discussions of experiences, challenges, solutions, and experiments that are shared for all to benefit from. There is a saying that if you ask ten beekeepers a question, you will get eleven different answers. I came to Jamaica with the intention of exploring these diverse perspectives and ideas of simple, humble, and pure honeybee stewardship.

Some beekeepers prefer to puff billowing amounts of smoke directly into the hive, some smoke the air around the hives yet others rarely touch their smokers. Some like to inspect every comb and manipulate the brood-nest in attempts to maximize strength and size and minimize swarming; others only look for eggs before closing up and refuse to manipulate the brood-nest. Beekeepers have to be mindful of their resources, biospheres, and needs so various philosophies and techniques develop.

There is no one ‘right’ way to beekeep—because circumstances vary constantly. Therefore, every beekeeper is continuously developing their own style and system that (hopefully) works for their relationship with their bees. By sharing our techniques and staying open to all the different perspectives and ideas of bee tending, no matter how absurd or negative some manipulations and interventions may seem, we can learn from them and decide for ourselves whether or not it may be appropriate for our own systems.

This internship helped me explore the diverse relationships that can be found between bee and keeper and taught me how to observe carefully, question everything, and try to put myself in the beekeeper’s shoes as well as the bee’s wings. While meeting beekeepers and visiting apiaries, I experienced some ideas and practices that made me question whether it was an appropriate approach for the situation since it seemed to be working against the bees rather than with them.

The actions that appeared to be negative ended up giving me lessons as valuable as the positive actions did. By working in cooperation (rather than competition) to advocate healthier bees and a cleaner environment through sustainable solutions, we can better care for these humming super-creatures that provide us with an abundance of fruiting plants, hive medicines and an ancient wisdom.

Agape and Kwao dedicate countless hours of their time, energy, and focus to provide Jamaican beekeepers with beekeeping alternatives that are environmentally and economically sustainable. It is safe to stay that this duo is jump-starting a sustainable beekeeping movement in Jamaica by blazing trails towards naturally healthy bees. It has been a blessing to learn and work with them. There are internships available for anyone who is interested.

Kaat Byrd is a Deaf traveling beekeeper who signs for the bees. She is focusing on educating and empowering the Deaf community with American Sign Language (ASL) friendly honeybee workshops and presentations. Since her four-month beekeeping internship in Jamaica, Kaat Byrd has been focusing on exploring sustainable beekeeping techniques with a DIY approach. To keep up with Kaat’s developing beekeeping experiences, visit her blog at: http://www.rootflux.com Email: kaatbyrd@gmail.com

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