Ledges new home to honeybee hives

by Town Reminder

Effort to promote harmlessness of green, environmental awareness

By Kristin Will

SOUTH HADLEY – A manicured golf course isn’t the most likely place for a beekeeper to place honeybee hives.
But with a bee in his bonnet, determined to prove honeybees can be successful on the green, South Hadley resident and owner of Pearl City Apiary Michael Bach will maintain two hives at Ledges Golf Course this spring.
In a time when bee populations struggle while experts identify causes of Colony Collapse Disorder and mass deaths, pesticides are among a trifecta of often-pointed-to causes of harm. Natural habitat and diverse food loss round out the causes along with various mites, parasites and diseases.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there is no proven scientific cause for the decline.
Bach agrees. “No one really knows why a lot of bee populations are dropping throughout the world,” he said.
The goal of maintaining two hives at the Ledges, he said, is to show “having colonies real close to an area that is supposedly bad for the environment [will] show that honey bees can easily sustain themselves without harm or damage.”
Bach has been a bee keeper for 10 years. He manages between 30 and 50 bee colonies on his Pearl Street property.
With his business, Pearl City Apiary, Bach rents hives and maintains pollination contracts. He provides a mentorship program and builds his own hives.
“Right now I balance between being a honey producer and raising more honey bees trying to expand my colonies,” he said.
On average, Bach harvests between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds of honey per year. “In the grand scheme of things,” he said, ‘that’s not really much.”
Bach is an employee of International Golf Maintenance [IGM], a company that cares for golf courses, including those in South Hadley and Chicopee. Bach works in Chicopee. He is a close friend of Mike Fontaine, who is an IGM employee at the Ledges course.
“We thought it’d be a neat idea to try doing a coupe of hives here on the golf course,” said Fontaine, noting the “bad press” golf courses receive in regard to bee populations.
“A lot of people will say we use a lot of pesticide on the golf course,” he said. “We do it responsibly, in small doses. We’re probably more responsible with pesticide use than typical homeowners. We’re held to a higher standard.”
The golf course, he said, is a good and safe place, for families and honeybees alike.
Two hives will be set up behind the Ledges maintenance facility away from golfers. “Ninety-nine percent of people won’t even know they’re there,” said Fontaine. “They will be out of sight.”
Electric, solar-powered fencing will be installed to keep bears away from the hives. “We’ve seen bears occasionally on the property,” said Fontaine. “We don’t want to attract them.”
Honey generated from the bees will be used in the Ledges’ Valley View Restaurant and made available to South Hadley schools and the Neighbors Helping Neighbors Food Pantry, depending on supply. In this first year, the honeybees won’t produce much honey, said Fontaine, because the bees will be busy building. A good yield will likely occur in the second year.
Student and community involvement is a second part of the project. “As soon we we get up to speed on it more, and as soon as we have something to show the students,
said Fontaine, “We’d love to so some kind of community involvement.”
Town Administrator Michael J. Sullivan said during contract negations, town officials asked IGM to incorporate and offer educational and community projects at the golf course.
“When we were deciding a contract for them, we asked them to do more of these educational, community-type projects, and they were really agreeable to it,” said Sullivan. “It will be a fun project,” he said. “We’re always looking for new ways” to use the Ledges Golf Course.