Las Cruces Sun-News via Associated Press
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) -- A bee's buzzing sound and its hyperactive flight pattern can be a nuisance to some, frightening to others. But for Mesilla beekeeper Pancho Garcia, an active hive is a clear sign of success.
"Everything you see at the store, especially produce, the bees had something to do with it at one point," said Garcia, an owner of Garcia Brothers Honey Farms.
Garcia's farm is one of two large beekeeping operations in the state; the other is Clayshulte Honey Farm, also in Mesilla. Garcia said he has more than 1,500 bee hives that can contain up to 10,000 bees at a time. His bees can be used by farms, local and out of state, to pollinate.
"We have requests for pollination by many farms. We go to California every year mid-February. Through pollination, the bees are 100 percent responsible for healthy almonds, citrus, plums, some cherries and apricots," he said.
And of course, they produce sweet honey, which Garcia distributes wholesale to area farmers and businesses, but as of yet, no retail outlets.
"In southern New Mexico our bees often produce a mesquite honey," he said. "It's because of what they pollinate, like alfalfa, cotton and purple sage. Honey season begins in mid-May through mid-October."
The amount of honey his bees yield is determined by a number of environmental factors. When moisture is high, nearby plants will flourish and so will the volume of honey. Dry seasons can make it difficult
for the bees to pollinate, which provides even more problems for bees to produce the wax that caps the honey inside the hive, essentially forming the sweet, edible nectar, Garcia said.
"In a great year we can yield 200, 55-gallon drums," he said. "We typically yield 100 to 150 drums. But last year was so dry that we were lucky to get 30 drums," he said.
Garcia has a profound respect for the bees he keeps. Without them, there would be a significant decline in the amount and variety of food available for purchase, he said.
But while he may admire and appreciate bees, Garcia makes it clear: He doesn't like to get stung.
This year, he's relieved there have been strong moisture patterns
"This is a great year. We haven't seen rain like this in five years," the third-generation farmer said.
Besides moisture, other uncontrollable problems that persist for bee farmers include colony collapse disorder (CCD), where worker bees, the ones responsible for pollination, suddenly disappear.
Garcia said he has not seen CCD impact his hives. However, in places like California and the East Coast, beekeepers are having a difficult time controlling the mysterious disorder. Speculation to the root of CCD include cell phone tower radiation, genetically modified crops and pesticides. Garcia claims New Mexico's dry climate is the reason why CCD is not a problem here.
His biggest concern is manmade.
"Residential development is coming too close to farm land. We've had to move back because the houses are coming near."
Still, he said, "this is a family business. I've been doing this since I was a kid. I try to pull away and it pulls me back in."
Greg Watson, a bee inspector with New Mexico Department of Agriculture, said there is a lack of interest from younger generations to get involved in beekeeping.
"We are fortunate there is a rise in hobby beekeepers, but people aren't interested in beekeeping. The population of commercial beekeepers is shrinking," he said.
Garcia maintains a strong relationship with the farm his grandfather started in 1954, and does his best to keep up with advancements in bee harvesting.
In California, he says, beekeeping is considered a science. The University of California-Davis even has a bee laboratory. However, Garcia's place in Mesilla is still, in many ways, old school. "They call me 'the ancient man' in California because I do things in ancient ways," he said laughing.
He's not unwilling to adapt to newer techniques. He has prepared separate hives to conduct his own temperature, feeding and antibiotic experiments in order to produce strong bees.
"They've developed antibiotics that can keep a healthy hive and even sustain a queen if she gets sick. I try to incorporate new ideas," he said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.