MULTIMEDIA: Columbia family farm educates community about bees

Thursday, May 3, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:37 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 3, 2012
Art Gelder shows fellow beekeepers the bees in one of 80 hives that he and his wife, Vera, own at Walk-About Acres. The Gelders sell bees to new and experienced beekeepers and offers classes in bee keeping. The Gelders have been providing bees and educating the Columbia community on the misunderstood insects for 20 years.

COLUMBIA — Walk-About Acres is creating a buzz.

The family farm owned by Art and Vera Gelder emphasizes honeybees, and the couple have more than 80 hives around Boone County.

Although the Gelders are experienced beekeepers, even they are stung from time to time.

For 20 years, the Gelders have been educating all sorts of groups — ranging in age from babies to senior citizens — about the importance of honeybees. The farm, on Kircher Road northeast of Columbia, offers field trips and beekeeping classes, and it sells bees and equipment to budding beekeepers. 

Vera Gelder said honeybees are particularly important to our food and ecosystems. She sees great importance in understanding agriculture and where the food we eat comes from.

Bees are strong communicators. One method they use is called the waggle dance, in which the bees move in a figure-eight pattern to communicate to the other bees the location of pollen in relation to the hive. 

There are three jobs a honeybee can have: a worker bee, a drone or a queen. The queen usually is marked for easy identification in the hive but can also be identified by her size and the number of bees constantly pampering her.

The farm sells honey from its beehives in many different forms, including ice cream, lotion, candy and candles. Vera Gelder noted that honey never spoils and that honey can be used for medicinal purposes, specifically to heal bedsores and other wounds and to treat external scars.

Vera Gelder said if you would have asked her about bees 20 years ago, she would have said that they make honey and sting people. Today, she is fascinated by the insects and all that they do.

Walk-About Acres might focus on honeybees, but it also keeps a variety of different animals, including emus, chickens, geese, turkeys, peacocks, mulefoot pigs and goats. 

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Allan Sharrock May 3, 2012 | 8:35 a.m.

If you want to see a free webinar about Bee Keeping or other small farming practices go to this link and find the Beginning Farmers Program.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 3, 2012 | 8:53 a.m.

What the article doesn't mention is something of considerable importance: have these beekeepers noticed any reduction in their hive counts (numbers of bees)? The diminishing numbers of honeybees nationally is a source of grave concern, not just for the production of honey but because bees are serious pollinators for various crops.

Reductions in bee counts have occurred in large portions of the United States but not necessarily in the entire United States; therefore, it would be (no pun intended) of interest to learn what local beekeepers have to say.

(Report Comment)
Laura D'Angelo May 4, 2012 | 8:50 a.m.

@Ellis Hi there! I am the reporter on this piece, and I have spoken with Vera Gelder on this topic, and here is what she had to say:

"About 5 years ago, in 2007, we (Walk-About Acres) lost about half of our hives to the colony collapse disorder. There has not been a definitive answer on what had caused that. There are still a lot of theories. But it has really changed the way a lot of beekeepers are keeping their bees. We don't use as much medication, and we are trying some different things to contribute to hive health that we had not been using before. For instance, before we would feed the bees sugar water. Well, that's just empty calories. Now, we use a new syrup that doesn't spoil, and it just has more nutrition.

I had not heard as much about beekeepers losing their hives like we did that year. It was all over the world, so very concerning for sure. But there is also the theory that it was a cyclical thing that happens every once in awhile for whatever reason, and we can hope that's the answer, but we really don't think so. We think it's probably our environment with all of the pesticides and pollution."

(Report Comment)

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