The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

July 27, 2013

Beekeeper's work is labor of love

By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — John McCoy loves honeybees. He always has.

McCoy sells honey and honey products at his store, the Honey House, at 307 State Highway 28. McCoy’s Raw Honey is sold at specialty stores and grocery stores in the area as well.

McCoy has more than 300 beehives in nine different locations. He has been keeping bees most of his life.

“It started out as a science fair project,” McCoy said. “I was tired of the same old thing — growing corn on a sponge. My uncle kept bees and I thought it would make a good project. My dad kept bees too, but that was before I knew him. When he came home from World War II, he lost all his bees. The DDT killed them.”

McCoy is an enthusiastic bee keeper. He hosts school groups, sells beekeeping equipment and offers advice to those who come asking.

The Honey House is practically a bee museum, with an exposed bee hive encased in Plexiglas and colorful informational posters explaining the lifecycle and colony structure of honeybees. There are bee jokes lining the walls and questions about bees geared toward elementary-aged children.

The walls are papered with thank-you notes from the hundreds of children who visited the Honey House on school field trips.

“It used to be that I would have 30 or more classes a year come through,” McCoy said. “But with the budget cuts and all, last year I think it was more like 20 classes that came through.”

McCoy said he keeps bees more as a hobby than as a business. He is an enthusiastic advocate for honeybees.

“I think more people are aware of what these bees are and how much we need them,” McCoy said. “I think that is especially true now that there are so many dying off.”

The number of honey bees in North America recently has declined dramatically in a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 22 percent of the bees kept commercially in the U.S. were lost last year due to Colony Collapse Disorder.

“I lost almost 50 percent of my bees last winter,” McCoy said. “I have replaced some, but with that kind of loss… I can’t replace all of them.”

Sometimes, McCoy said, he is able to find a swarm of bees to coax into a hive. When bees outgrow their dwelling, the queen, who normally lays only male eggs, will produce a female. The old queen will lead half of the colony out to find a new place to live.

“You have to be quick to get a swarm,” McCoy said. “They will be there one minute and then be gone the next. Sometimes you will see them in a big ball on a branch. If you can clip that branch and put them into a box, then they will usually settle.”

Beekeeping is a precarious business. Bees will not fly unless it is 50 degrees or warmer, and they can’t fly in a heavy rain. Some years, bees in the Northeast will only produce honey for six months.

“If the bees can’t fly, they can’t get to the flowers, and then they can’t make the honey,” McCoy said. “It is a very iffy venture. We are dealing with insects, and they are dealing with flowers and Mother Nature.”

McCoy’s Honey House is open from noon to 4 p.m., Thursdays and Saturdays.