By Tamara Scully
LONG VALLEY — Tassot Apiaries currently consists of about 160 hives, which are located on many parcels of farmland throughout the Morris and Hunterdon County areas.
Unlike traditional farmers, who must have land to plant their crops, beekeepers must have crops to feed their bees.
Jean-Claude and Beatrice Tassot began their apiary by finding farmers who would allow them to keep beehives on their land. Many farmers readily agreed, as farmers who don’t keep their own bee colonies traditionally have to pay for pollination services from commercial beekeepers. With the Tassot’s proposal, the farmer could have pollination for free, and the Tassots could maintain their hives on the farmer’s land and collect the honey. A win-win situation, Jean-Claude Tassot explained.
Wild honeybee populations have undergone drastic decreases in recent years. Many farmers had noted that their yields of crops, of which most depend on bee pollination, were significantly decreasing. The benefits of having colonies onsite at the farm made local farmers very receptive to the Tassots’ proposal.
Based upon the results: honey, soaps, candles and other products made by the Tassots from their hives, and sold via Web site and through numerous local retail outlets, the idea was fruitful for this beekeeping couple as well as for the crops. Their pure honey, which is not heated or filtered and comes from local pollen, is a benefit to those suffering from seasonal allergies as well.
Beekeeping as a means to make a living is an intricate art and a lot of work. It isn’t enough to build a hive and collect honey. The colonies are closely managed to ensure that there is enough pollen available to them, as well as sufficient supplies of nectar and water. Pesticide and herbicide use can damage bee colonies, yet the colonies are vital to farming, where they may be exposed to these hazards.
Mites and other infestations can kill a colony. Swarming occurs if the colony isn’t divided at the proper time and the bees become crowded. And the honey can not simply be taken from the bees. Enough must be left for the colony’s nourishment — especially during the winter months, when the colony will remain in the hive, surviving on stored food, and possibly on supplemental sugar or sugar-water provided by the beekeeper.
But despite the hard work involved, the Tassots don’t want to discourage hobbyists.
“Beekeeping as a hobby with a few beehives in a backyard only takes a few hours a week,” Beatrice Tassot said. And even hobbyists can have a beneficial impact on our ecosystems. “As honey bees visit blossoms to gather the nectar and pollen necessary for their survival, they help agricultural crops, home gardens and wildlife habitats flourish,” Jean-Claude Tassot said. Bees, he said, are “an integral and critical component of the agricultural environment.”
Extending farmland assessment and right-to-farm protection to beekeeping professionals is an issue Beatrice Tassot, who was recently was elected to the post of President of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association for 2007, would like to have addressed. Because the managed honeybee colonies are so important to crop production, apiarists who manage hives as a business should be recognized as farmers, she said. Part of that recognition should include some farm assessment tax reductions and right-to-farm protection, despite the lack of a land base.
“Just imagine my neighbor’s faces if I put hundreds of beehives on my five acres,” Jean-Claude said, referring to the five-acre minimum needed to qualify for Farmland Assessment in New Jersey. “Honeybees have to be in close to the crops, not concentrated on my property.”
This year, the Tassots will be meeting a growing demand from professional landscapers concerned about the lack of pollination of small fruit bushes and landscape shrubs on the properties and gardens they maintain. The Tassots will be providing several local landscapers, as well as individual homeowners, with hives. The couple will manage the colonies and even collect the honey for their subscribers. Homeowners can reap the benefits of the bees without having to concern themselves with the work involved.
The Tassot have quite a lot of concern for the honeybees going into the 2007 season. The 2006 season was difficult on bees, even without the mite and the emergence of Colony Collapse Disorder.
The mild winter contributed to problems, Beatrice Tassot said, as the honeybees will leave the hives when temperatures are above 55 degrees. The bees went foraging quite a bit this winter, but of course there was little to pollinate. So they expended excess energy — requiring consumption of food stores — with little to show. Beekeepers had to supplement the stored honey with sugar water to keep the bees fed.
Beatrice Tassot is determined to educate the public about the essential role bees play. She wants to continue connecting new beekeepers to established mentors. She wants the public to realize that honeybee swarms or hives found in and around the home need to be collected by a beekeeper — many of whom advertise this service — and not killed. The Tassots have also worked to promote beekeeping through educational outreaches at summer camps, 4-H fairs and other local children’s programs.
For the beekeepers themselves, Tassot would like to see more participation and high-quality displays entered into shows, such as the New Jersey State Honey Show, held during the State Agricultural Convention. There, beekeepers showcase their products and promote not only their own businesses, but the beekeeping industry as a whole through creative displays and product design and quality.
As winner of the Best Exhibitor Overall for the 2007 show, Tassot Apiaries could lead the way. The numerous ribbons they received for their amber and dark honey, several varieties of mead, beeswax, creamed honey, a honey frame and photography earned them their way to the top.
“No farmers: no food. No beekeepers: no farmers,” is a motto the Tassots endorse. With Tassot Apiaries leading the way, the role of the humble honeybee and of the beekeeper, might soon be elevated to the sweet status they deserve.
For further information, visit Tassot Apiaries at: www.tassotapiaries.com or call 908-264-4504. The New Jersey Beekeepers Association can be found at www.njbeekeepers.org.