Folks listen when ‘Bee Whisperer’ Chorba speaks

AFP Correspondent

CRAIG COUNTY, Va. (May 20, 2014) — More people are working to become beekeepers, a man whom many call a “Bee Whisperer,” reports.
Mark Chorba, a past president of the New River Valley Beekeepers Association and beekeeping teacher, speaks with authority when he tells of what is happening in the growth of the practice.
“There is an increase of new beekeepers every year,” Chorba said. “The New River Valley Beekeepers host a Beginning Beekeeper Class in February/April and we sell out all 54 seats every year. This past year was no exception.”
Chorba lives in the Floyd County community of Copper Hill where he has a small five acre farm of bees, ducks and chickens.
“The bees are my main focus and currently I have 25 colonies,” he said. “I also keep bees at the Catawba Sustainability Center.”
Chorba taught a well-attended beekeeping class at the center in Craig County last year and is scheduled to teach one this year.
There was some uncertainty as to whether the event will be held this year when he was contacted.
“Every year I bring into Southwest Virginia ‘Package bees’,” he continued. “Last year I sold 380 packages locally and 200 in Northern Virginia.”
“This year I have sold 350 here and only sent 45 to Northern Virginia. A bit less, but the person I sold bees to in Northern Virginia was a retailer who resold the bees. He ordered 300 from South Georgia and I then sold him the other 45 so the demand is about the same.”
Chorba said selling the bees is a way for him to keep his finger on the pulse of beekeeping growth in the area.
“Every spring I sell more bees to first time beekeepers than established beekeepers so the numbers of first time beekeepers is growing,” he said. “Established beekeepers also purchase bees but today many of them are using their own bees to create more bees and become sustainable within their own colonies.”
Chorba explained what he meant by “package bees” when asked.
“In order to supply the demand every spring for honeybees that have either died out or for people who want to add or start new bee hives, the suppliers in Georgia, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina produce what we all call package bees,” he replied. “They are simply that, a two, three or four pound box of honeybees with a new mated queen. It’s a starter package used to replace bees or create a new colony.
“Every spring I sell hundreds of these package bees to new and existing beekeepers all over Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Maryland.”
The move of the warm seasons north is known as a primary factor in the need for package bees, Chorba indicated.
“Here in Virginia and other states further north, our honeybee populations don’t increase in numbers ’til it warms up significantly so producing package bees here won’t work,” he reported. “The demand is in late March or April when our bees are still in small clusters that cannot be divided up.”
This gives the producers in the Deep South who have favorable weather and can increase their honeybee populations an early opportunity to sell the excess bees and meet the needs of beekeepers whose operations are to the north.
“As our weather warms up in Virginia, beekeepers here also divide and increase our own bees by making splits and offering those splits,” he said.
The splits are sometimes referred to as “NUCS.” They go to those who would need them or retained to sustain the owners’ apiaries.
“I currently have 26 colonies that I have made several splits from this spring,” Chorba said. “I also produce my own queens from my strongest overwintered colonies. By producing extra queens from these hardy colonies, I am able to sustain my own apiary and not rely on package bees from the south.”
He reports that he will sell queens and NUCS to others who want good strong Virginia Honeybees that withstand the winters here, are resistant to the Varroa mites and produce a surplus of honey.