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Bee Season

Area honey farm crucial to local fruit growers

May 13, 2012
By MIKE ZUMMO , The Leader Herald

Kenneth Coyne said it simply.

"Without pollination, there is no crop," said Coyne, who operates Bellinger's Orchard in Fultonville with his wife, Linda, and father-in-law, Tom Bellinger.

For the past 20 years, Bellinger's Orchard has gotten its pollination from the bees that have been cared for by four generations of the Rulison family, at Rulison Honey Farm, in the town of Florida.

Article Photos

A bee from Rulison Honey Farm in the town of Amsterdam pollinates a flower at Bellinger’s Orchard in Glen in this undated photo.

Photo submitted

The farm is currently run by cousins Mark and Gary Rulison, the grandsons of founder Earl Rulison.

"We grew up two houses away from each other and it's kind of like we're brothers," Mark Rulison said. "We're always together."

Coyne said fruit trees require the presence of pollinating insects to "ensure the pollen from one flower reaches the stigma of another." He also said some trees, like the Suncrist apple, require the pollen from a different variety to ensure proper pollination, such as the Gala or Fuji.

Under normal conditions, the bees are at the orchards pollinating for about a week, but not this year, due to the hot stretch in March and extended cold period that followed.

"This year, with the crazy weather and the extended bloom, we had the bees here for close to three weeks," Coyne said.

Todd Rogers, owner of Rogers Family Orchard in the town of Johnstown, said he has been getting Rulison to pollinate his trees for as long as he can remember.

"They're nice guys and they know what they're doing," Rogers said. "They bring the bees here and the honey is good. They're a good bunch of hardworking guys. Plus, I need bees and they've got them."

Rogers didn't have the bees at all this year because his crop took some damage due to frost after the early bloom.

"I don't have a full crop because of the weather," he said. "I just didn't spend the money this year."

Mark Rulison said when the orchard calls, they have about 24 hours to get the hives into the orchard, and when they're finished pollinating, they have 24 hours to get them out. When the bees are first moved, they start flying in a circular pattern and pick up land points so they know where to return at the end of the day.

Due to the early spring, Rulison said the area orchards were about two weeks ahead of schedule.

"When you work with a local bee farm, you become familiar with the strength of their hives," Coyne said. "Early spring is a true test of the abilities of the beekeeper. A hive not well cared for can suffer or perish over the winter, whereas an established hive comes out strong and ready to go."

While the weather damaged some of the apple crop, it gave the beekeepers an early start, according the farm's Facebook page. The bees have been out foraging since February and started collecting pollen then. The family said it was the earliest it had ever been able to get out to the bee yard locations.

"Normally the first mild days are in early March," Mark Rulison said. "We had a southern winter this year. The ground was hard enough sometimes to drive right in, where other times we have to walk in."

The farm's liquid honey is strained, while the comb honey is right out of the hive, and Mark Rulison said their honey has a wide market, stretching as far south as Virginia. Most of it goes to New York City and northern New Jersey.

"We're more into the gourmet stores," Rulison said. "Not into the main supermarket chains."

The honey collection begins in the middle of July.

"When we collect for the whole day, our truck is kind of staggering because of all those insects," Rulison said. "Sometimes there can be up to 130 pounds of honey per hive. With about 1,150 hives, that's a lot of honey."



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