A beekeeper inspired Islip Town to become a bee friend

SIn 2018, Bay Shore beekeeper Tom Santorelli became alarmed when he noticed bees in his hives were dying prematurely.

Italian bees, which have a lifespan of up to six weeks, were perishing earlier, he said, due to insufficient nectar, a nutrient essential for their survival.

“If there is not enough food for [honey]bees, there’s definitely not enough food for bumblebees and whatever is out there,” Santorelli, 65, said.

Santorelli took his concerns to John Cochrane Jr., an Islip councilman. Cochrane remembers visiting Santorelli’s hives and being disheartened by the death of the bees. “I was upset and worried…It’s like he’s the mother hen of these hives.”

Spurred on by Santorelli, Cochrane said he sought the advice of local environmentalists to address issues affecting bee mortality.

After determining that more pollinator-friendly plants were needed to provide nectar and pollen for bees, Cochrane drafted a resolution recommending that all developments set aside at least 10% of their landscaped area for pollinator-friendly vegetation. Bees play an essential role in the pollination of food crops. And bees, among the only bees to live in colonies, are supreme foragers, leaving few, already limited, resources to solitary bees and other pollinators.

The recommendation was adopted unanimously in June 2020 by the city council. The city has also compiled a list of pollinator-friendly plants it recommends designers use. The city’s engineering department said the city council may require specific future projects to include bee-friendly plantings. Since 2020, the city has renewed its efforts to raise awareness among owners and architects when submitting development plans.

“The applicant and their design team propose a planting plan, and staff evaluate the proposals by checking the compliance, viability and theoretical survival of the plantings to be placed,” the city’s engineering department said Friday in a statement. communicated.

A Newsday review of other Long Island municipal codes shows no such recommendation or requirement for developers to include bee-friendly plants in their design. The town of Brookhaven requires native planting between solar panels, which could benefit native wildlife, including pollinators.

The Bay Shore Beekeeper

Santorelli, who previously worked in the music industry, developed his passion for beekeeping after reading a book about bees. Her first year was a journey fraught with trial and error, and dead bees.

Tom Santorelli inspects the frames inside his beehives at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church Farm in Bay Shore on April 21.

Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

On a recent April day, he inspected the two beehives he keeps on the farm at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. in Bayshore for the company he founded eight years ago, Tomaso’s Apiary. As the pollinators swarmed over each other, buzzing and flapping their translucent wings at a breathtaking 230 beats per second, Santorelli – bare-handed but wearing light-colored clothing and a protective face mask – deconstructed the hives, methodically scanning the hexagonal shaped beeswax cells for pollen, bee larvae or any other pests, such as varroa mites or small hive beetles.

He has mastered the art of keeping a colony alive and has learned to “read” frames – where bees build their honeycomb – which can indicate bee health and nutrition. During his recent visit, a beehive appeared healthier than its mate, so Santorelli planned to supply them with sugar syrup. In good years, he harvests 2,500 pounds of honey.

Bees cling to frames as beekeeper Tom Santorelli checks his hives, which are located on a patch of farmland behind St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Bay Shore.

“Through observation, learning, they kind of speak to you,” he said. “In a box, you open it, you have something to evaluate. … The hive is a great diagnostic tool to see what’s going on in the environment.”

Pollinators in danger

A push to save bees and other pollinators comes amid a global decline in bee populations, which the federal government is tackling. The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded nearly $4 million in grants in 2019 to fund pollinator health projects.

John Turner, a senior conservation policy advocate at the Seatuck Environmental Association in East Islip, said Long Island was once filled with wildflowers, especially in the ancient Hempstead Plains, a once expansive prairie of native grasslands. The post-World War II housing boom was the “final death knell” for the Plains, Turner said.

“It’s become a global issue and certainly one that has been emphasized on Long Island to promote and increase habitats where pollinators can go through their entire life cycle,” Turner said.

Tens of thousands of acres on Long Island are what Turner calls “hostile habitats” for pollinators. His own garden in Setauket was hostile until he introduced pollinator-friendly wildflowers to his garden, and now “in August and September, it’s like a tumultuous airport with bees flying around,” he said. -he declares.

When Santorelli noticed his bees declining, nearby housing construction was underway, he said, which he says contributed to the dwindling nectar supply. His two Bay Shore hives are doing better but he supplements their feed with sugar syrup when needed.

Advice for bees

The idea of ​​uprooting your garden and replacing everything with pollinator-friendly native plants is daunting and certainly shouldn’t be done at the same time, said conservation policy advocate John Turner.

Even something as simple as adding pollinator-friendly flowers to just one section of your garden can give bees a much-needed boost. He recommended planting native wildflowers, blazing stars, goldenrod, as pictured here, asters and milkweed, which can also boost monarch butterfly populations.

If planting flowers is out of your wheelhouse, Turner suggested focusing on insect welfare by limiting chemicals. It is also easy to build habitats for bees; he suggested googling “bee hotels” for a step-by-step guide.

The decline in bee populations was a “slow, gradual process,” Turner said, adding that on Long Island, heavy use of pesticides and harmful chemicals throughout the 1960s during the housing boom contributed in decline. A 2017 report from the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation organization, shows that more than half of North America’s native bees die.

“The real implications of a loss of pollinators and a loss of insects in general are potentially – at the risk of sounding a little dramatic – catastrophic for human society,” Turner said.

Bee-friendly vegetation

Bees play a vital role in pollinating fruits and vegetables, which the Center for Biological Diversity says is a $3 billion annual industry in the United States alone. In the absence of pollinators, or even declining pollinators, your favorite nuts, spices, vegetables and fruits are at risk. Without pollinators, “you’d be hard pressed to cook a meal,” Turner said.

Tom Wilk, Queens beekeeper and Empire State Honey Producers Association director for the New York City-Long Island district, said while lack of nectar contributes to bee deaths, it’s also an indicator of overcrowding. .

Wilk, who owns six beehives in the village of Lattingtown in Nassau County, said with the addition of bees, it’s even more of a struggle for limited resources, putting the area 250 native bees, as a carpenter or bumblebees, at the risk of starving. Islip’s recommendation won’t be an overnight fix for pollinators, but it does put them on the right track by expanding their access to food, he said.

“I agree with the municipalities pushing for the planting of flowers,” he said. “Having more flowers and more pollinator-friendly plants is one of the things I preach more than having more bees.”

With Laura Mann and Judy Weinberg

A world of bees

Each hive, roughly the size of a filing cabinet, contains tens of thousands of bees.

Worker bees roam the earth in search of nectar which they bring back to the hive in one of their two stomachs (called the honey stomach). There, the nectar is processed into honey and stored in one of the hexagon-shaped cells.

While the bees perform the task of making honey, the queen bee concentrates on rebuilding her colony, as the worker bees die after about six weeks. The queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day.

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