For beekeeper Tim Miller, it all started as a hobby.
“I had spent 3 months down in Kentucky working with a home improvement program with our church. Each week youth groups would come down for a work week, and I would coordinate the groups. We had a break one week, and I knew there was a beekeeper that had some hives up in the mountains, so I went along with them and I was totally fascinated.”
After starting his first hive in 1994, Tim’s fascination soon developed into a workforce of 300 hives, providing varieties of honey for The Honeybee Shoppe in Manheim, PA. During the summer months, the hives pollinate orchards and crops at over 50 different locations in Lancaster County. By early September, Tim has the hives taken to Tioga County in Northern Central Pennsylvania, where the dense, mountainous forest provides cooler temperatures for the honeybees. Here, the honeybees pollinate wildflowers — particularly goldenrod — to produce the unfiltered Wildflower Honey that you can find at Kimberton Whole Foods.
Tim and his wife own the Honeybee Shoppe, located just steps from the backdoor of his home — a property that was formerly owned by a beekeeper. Here, the honey is harvested, processed and bottled with the help from his daughters and nephew. Beekeeping holds a special place for the Miller family, “my great-grandfather had honey bees, maybe a dozen to 15 hives. He was also a dairy farmer. We don’t have any pictures of him with his cows, but we do have a picture of him with his bees…and I treasure that picture because that’s part of the heritage.”
The property line is peppered with hives, shaded by trees and protected on either side by tall fields of corn. Tim’s just added new queen bees to these hives and we examined how the colonies have taken to them. He smokes the hive to warn and calm them; he can sense the state of the colony as he pulls back the lid. Without a queen, there’s a sense of disorganization and much louder, roaring hum. “This hive is like a body, each bee is like a cell. Each bee that emerges as a young new bee is like a new cell in the body, but working all together it’s amazing what they can do.”
Since the 1980’s beekeepers have been struggling with obstacles like parasites, lack of diversity and neonicotinoid-based pesticides, all of which are suspect to contributing to Colony Collapse Disorder. This has been devastating to health and productivity, “we don’t have large colonies like we used to have, and as a result we don’t have a large production like we used to have.”
What can you do to help the bees?
Tim urges, “don’t spray the broadleaf”, a common weed found in lawns. “We all want picture perfect yards but then you don’t see a clover in the yard. Perfectly manicured lawns are like a desert to a honey bees and butterflies.”