Honey bees hard at work turning long-shuttered Ontario County dump to nature haven

SENECA — When Ontario County landfill operators decided to restore the 17-acre field that once housed the county dump, they turned to the experts.

Charlotte Love, environmental analyst with landfill operator Casella Waste Systems Inc.; beekeeper Sarah Meyer, owner of Worker’s Ransom Honey in and around Geneva; and Hungry Bear Farms, where owners Ben and Kim Carpenter supply beekeepers far and wide from Canandaigua.

The field on County Road 49, adjacent to the current county landfill/ recycling center in the town of Seneca, has been vacant for decades since the old Ontario County dump closed in 1979. Now the place is buzzing with honeybees — and stories. Since the hives were established this spring, with advice and equipment from Honey Bear Farms, bee tales abound.

But first, why a honey bee farm at the old dump?

Running a landfill is not the most popular of businesses. ”You are always looking at ways to portray some positivity, put back into the community,” said Brian Sanders, general manager at the Ontario County landfill. The honeybees will help revitalize the acreage by promoting healthy plants and wildlife, he said. Love got the project off the ground. Meyer came on board to manage the hives.

Honey bees perform a sweet service, pollinating fruits, flowers and vegetables. As honey bees gather pollen and nectar for their survival, they pollinate crops such as apples, cranberries, melons and broccoli. Some crops, including blueberries and cherries, are 90 percent dependent on honey bee pollination, according to the American Beekeeping Federation. One crop, almonds, depends entirely on the honey bee for pollination at bloom time.

Meyer said honey bees can pollinate 3 to 5 miles from their hive.

Going forward, Sanders said Casella plans to plant additional wildflowers and other plantings in the field to further promote habitat. The honey won’t be sold, it will be given away, he said.

Love said this is a Casella’s SEED project (Sustainable, Environmental, and Economic Development). The company invests in SEED projects at its various landfill sites across the Northeast and they are meant to benefit each community and the environment. Examples are a solar farm and community garden in Coventry, Vermont, a heat recovery system in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, and pollinator projects in New York state such as monarch butterfly habitat restoration in Steuben County and honey bees at the Chemung County landfill.

All abuzz

As if the bees knew what was up at the old Ontario County dump — on June 4 as (human) workers went about their business on the face of the operating landfill, thousands of honeybees had work of their own to do. Having outgrown their colony, they did what honeybees do in that situation. Swarm. Meyer was there to rein in the zooming cloud of honeybees. Fully clad in protective gear, she scooped handfuls of bees into a box.

That was an exciting day at the landfill. As was “The Extraction” on July 2, as Meyer and Love tell about it. The discovery: A honeybee hive embedded in the wall of the old recycling building adjacent to the field of new hives. A family of three local beekeepers performed the delicate extraction along with their mentor, another local beekeeper, said Love. Meyer was there, too. The beekeepers vacuumed the bees and cut out sections of the hive to put into hollow frames – and found the queen. “The beekeepers were kind enough to perform this service in exchange for the bees and the hive,” Love said.

Help from Hungry Bear Farms

At Hungry Bear Farms, which outfits beekeepers from Canandaigua to Canada and Farmington to France, Ben said he was happy to help with the SEED project. An EAS Master Beekeeper, which denotes his expertise in the field certified by the Eastern Apiculture Society, Ben said interest in beekeeping overall continues to grow.

“There is a natural fascination with keeping bees,” Ben said from the shop at 264 Saltonstall St., which is filled with beekeeping supplies and hives out back. Ben and Kim, big in many local and regional beekeeping organizations, support beekeeping and educate about the value of honey bees to the environment and the economy.

“A lot of folks are starting to see the benefits to the environment, whether it is in their garden or in another manner. They are seeing the positives that keeping bees brings,” said Ben. “Once they have bees for a bit, they get ‘stung’ — are hooked because there is so much to learn, do, see, and it can be very challenging.”

“For a lot of people, their bees become an extension of their family, much like a dog or cat. They take great care of their hives, much like a farmer would his cattle,” Ben said. “So it allows them to be hooking into nature and into agriculture but still have a life, because you do not need to water and feed them every day.”