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Coal miners in West Virginia shift to beekeeping

Staff Writer |
Former coal miners or citizens whose lives have been shaped by the coal mining industry in southern West Virginia spent their summer learning how to establish and operate bee colonies thanks to help from the University of Delaware's Debbie Delaney.

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Delaney, associate professor of entomology in UD's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, spent her summer in Summers County working as a consultant through Appalachian Headwaters which is a non-profit organization that formed the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective.

Delaney said that the goal was to help get the socioeconomic growth program up and running for displaced miners in 14 counties in southern West Virginia.

"We got about 500 nucleus colonies or nucs, which are small colonies of bees, and a queen and all summer we've been erecting bear fences and creating bee yards so we can grow the colonies over the season and get them through the winter," said Delaney.

Beginning next year, local partners will come on board and get hives which will be a way for them to generate income.

Delaney said that how much income will vary depending on what kind of forage is available during that time of year—and that since the initial installation began after foraging season, they have had to feed the bees a lot to get them up to weight to make it through winter.

"Typically, I'd say in that area of West Virginia, if they do things right, they should be able to get close to 200 pounds [of honey] off of each hive," said Delaney.

The way the program operates, the local partners will get the colonies, pull their honey off and bring it to the experts at the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective to extract.

"I've been helping them design a big honey processing building that will be able to process 100,000 pounds of honey and then we will bottle it, we'll market it and we'll sell it to a higher end community," said Delaney.

"We're not just selling the honey but also a story which is really cool."


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