Burd and the bees
EWING TOWNSHIP — To some extent, Jeff Burd came to beekeeping because he missed the outdoor activities and chores he shared on the small family farm where he grew up. Raised on a dairy farm — now Southwinds Horse Farm — Burd’s family produced milk cows, chickens and some vegetables and was involved with 4-H from the time he was 9 years old.
Burd said the colony collapse disorder in beehives that was common in 2006 to 2008 also motivated him to become a beekeeper.
More recently, Burd served a two-year term as president of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association, which has a network of local chapters.
“I took a short course with [former state apiarist] Tim Schuler and Bob Hughes, got myself a couple of hives, and things just progressed from there,” he said while checking on several of his hives.
With beekeeping, “you don’t get licensed but you take a class and get a certificate, so you learn all the best management practices,” he added.
Burd went to college at Lycoming in Williamsport, Pa., and studied broadcasting and journalism and then got a master’s degree in public administration from Rutgers-Camden.
He works as an assessor with the Township of Ewing.
Burd keeps several hives on property owned by Hopewell Valley Friends of Open Space.
Burd’s first hives were at his brother’s small farm in Titusville on Pleasant Valley Road. A cousin lives off Scotch Road, so Burd also has some hives over there.
“You kind of get bit by the bug and then you just keep expanding,” Burd said of beekeeping.
“For hobbyist beekeeping, if you’re just covering your expenses, you should be happy,” he said. “This year I’ll be doing more with candles, but due to my own time constraints with a full-time job, it’s just pretty much just honey for me.”
Burd said he enjoys the comradery with other beekeepers, getting out in the fresh air, and the knowledge that he’s helping the local ecosystems where his hives are located.
“My brother Tom is still involved in farming on Pleasant Valley Road in Titusville and I like the constant challenges,” he said. “First of all, we’re always dealing with varroa mites, that’s public enemy No. 1. Then there’s diminished foraging area and places for the bees to feed.”
Not surprisingly, the busiest time of year for beekeepers is June-July-August, he said.
“That’s a crazy time of year because you’re harvesting honey, but I’m pretty busy all year round. I’ll check in here a few times each winter to see how they’re doing,” he said of the bees. “Really, you’re still busy through August, September and October.”
How do bees survive the sometimes bitter cold of New Jersey winters? They don’t hibernate like bears, Burd said, but they cluster around the queen in their hives to share warmth.
“They’ll make a big cluster and the queen will stay in the middle, and they’ll slow down significantly, but they don’t really sleep per se,” he said.
In winter months, Burd and hundreds of other hobbyist beekeepers — and a few commercial operators like Woodbridge-based Grant Stiles — will check in on their hives.
“First of all I’m here to make sure they’re alive. I’m also checking their weight, making sure they have adequate stores of honey, and usually I’ll feed them some kind of sugar blocks as well.”
Burd said this time of year, he’s looking after perhaps 5,000 bees.
“Later in the year, when things are really humming along and you get into June and July, you’re talking about 50,000 bees.
“They’ll increase by a factor of 10 and then tail back off again. Once there are more pollen and nectar sources they’ll expand their numbers dramatically.”
Burd estimates 90 percent of the Garden State’s beekeepers are avocational hobbyists like himself.
So besides the benefits of fresh, raw honey, why does Burd devote so much time to it?
“It’s also the enjoyment of doing something with nature; it’s a lot of fun after a long day,” he said. “I used to have bees at my uncle’s house and after a long day, he would sit out in the yard next to the hives, smoke his pipe and that would have a very calming, tranquilizing effect on him. It would be relaxing.”
Burd urges those in beekeeping as a hobby or part-time vocation to check out the New Jersey Beekeepers’ Association website.
Short courses are held in eight different locations around the state at various times of the year, he said.
“A lot of people, they want to do it, but then they realize how much work it is and how expensive it is. The short courses are informative, but also an eye-opener,” he said.