Bay Area Beekeeping Since 1916
Mr. Bob Brachmann was born in 1953 just outside of Buffalo, New York in the town of Cheektowaga**. At the same time, this small town was experiencing the industrial boom of post-World War II and Brachmann’s childhood was shared with the Westinghouse Electric Corporation plant and the development of the new suburbia. Attending the University of Buffalo, he studied political science and philosophy before moving to Berkeley, California in 1976.
In Berkeley, Bob participated in the Open Education Exchange where he was introduced to beekeeping by David Gaymen. The class was taught at the Farallon Institute near the waterfront in the Berkeley flats (now located in Petaluma, CA) over a series of four Saturdays. He remembers the class as enjoyable and that he was intrigued by the idea of honey bees. Honey bees stuck in his head and he took the class again the following year. This time taught by David Eichorn (the David featured in the book Backyard Beekeepers of the Bay Area). Soon after this second class, Bob joined the Alameda County Beekeepers Association where he became inundated in apiculture.
After joining the ACBA, Bob got some wooden ware and put it together. Not long after, he ventured to the ACBA apiary in the Oakland Hills (now defunct) where to is astonishment a swarm had landed in a nearby bush. He bagged the swarm and began his career of ‘playing with bees.’
After his first season with his Berkeley /Oakland Hills bees, he made his first attempt to collect the honey. Out back Bob’s residence, a ten-unit apartment building on College Ave near Alcatraz, in a small cottage-gone-honey house, Bob managed to borrow an old extractor and it’s owner, Hal Carlstad, for the day. It was then that Bob realized, “Man, people do this for a living, in beautiful rural areas.” Since then, he hasn’t stopped.
“The best honey crop I’ve ever made was out of my backyard in Berkeley, California, probably in nineteen-seventy-eight or seventy-nine.” – Bob Brachmann (NY Green Fest 2001)
Bob continued to work with bees, develop his knowledge, and serve the community. In 1985 Bob served as Vice President for the Alameda County Beekeepers Association under Donald Hill, his mentor. In 1986 Bob Served as ACBA President. Bob credits the ACBA for providing him the venue for developing not only his interest in beekeeping, but a life that has filled him with delight and an opportunity that without it would have otherwise left him living under a bridge, too philosophical for his own good.
Bob married artist Barbara Fox and began looking to develop his beekeeping career through experience working with industry bees. He and Barbara moved to Redding, CA to work for the diversified apiary operation, Royal Air Force Apiarist, run by Rich Gannon. Here Bob learned about the daily operations of packaging and selling nucs and queens, managing three-thousand colonies, pollinating almonds and the labor of summering bees in the San Jouaquin Valley for alphalpha, Hat Creek (in North Eastern California) for clover, and as far as Montana for alphalpha, clover and wild-flower honey.
After a season in Redding, Bob and Barbara sought out a new home and found their way to Mountain Ranch in Calaveras County, CA. Here Bob worked for the Department of Agriculture Weights and Measures while running his bee business pollinating almonds and bottling varietal honeys. Throughout his beekeeping business in Calaveras County Bob did some raising, trading, and selling of queens and packages, but found the business burdensome with excessive levels of competition and always returned to bottling his varietal honey favorites; Eucluyptis, Toyon (a bushy plant, AKA California Holly Berry), Yellow Star Thistle, Sage and Buckwheat honey, and “a wonderful heavy bodied honey” from the medicinal Cascara Sagrada. Driving his bees throughout the nectar scarce foot hills of California, Bob was able to extract each honey crop separately and then sell it along his route, eventually he began featuring his varietals in wine tasting rooms as a unique flight option.
In 1993 Bob and Barbara moved to their present home in South Western New York where they continued to keep bees and quickly joined the Western New York Honey Producers (WNYHP). Through his association with WNYHP, he began to collaborate with other local beekeepers, including the Ontario Beekeepers Association (OBA). Through OBA he met UC Davis beekeeper Medhat Nasr who was using management methodologies, developed in 1984 from Norm Gary and Robert Page, to study Tracheal Mite resistant bees (funded by the OBA and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture’s Transfer Program).
By working with Medhat, Bob reinforced his understanding of the survivability of available bee stock in the North. While most beekeepers at the time preferred to import and build new colonies each year from California or Southern bees, Bob wanted to find a suitable Northern bee. In the company of Dave Howland, Joe Rowland, Kirk Webster, and Medhat, he searched for solutions and quickly found the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) out of Baton Rouge, LA. Here, in the 1997 they’d begun evaluating Russians honey bees, originating from Primorsky Krai in Vladivostok on the Eastern edge of Russia. As the ARS studied these bees for their resilience to common pathogens, Bob studied the reports and saw data that put the bees “head and shoulders above for varroa resistance.” Bob remembers, “I got into beekeeping because of my ability to participate in agriculture easily, without using insecticides, but the mites forced us to begin using toxins on our bees.” The Russians were an opportunity for Bob to get back to natural beekeeping. When, in 2000, the ARS released the Russians to beekeepers across the U.S., Bob immediately ordered some.
As he introduced them to his apiary in New York he struggled with the transition. Over a few seasons and through observation and collaboration with friends from WNYHP and OBA, he saw his bees overwintering and surviving common pathogens that would have otherwise obliterated his yard.
He now runs Cold County Queens out of Little Valley, New York, and has been able to return to toxin free beekeeping with his Russians. He is a prolific advocate of selective breeding with Russian queens as an alternative to pesticides to treat tracheal and Varroa mites, maintaining two lines of Russian queens and 12 lines of russian drones. With a crew of three who extract, bottle and label, and help from his son Trevor (especially in 2012***), he produces about twenty-five thousand pounds of honey and raises about 1000 queens and 100-150 nucs a year. According to The Bee Herder, Mr. Brachmann ”runs about 700 queen mating nucs in three-way mediums, four-way shallows, about 100 Styrofoam mating nucs and about 400 two-way eight-frame deeps. The three- and four-ways can go to nuc mothers or full colonies during the latter part of the season. He uses typical queenless cell builders, adding brood every eight days to the colony that holds a maximum of 45 queen cells.”
Mr. Bob Brachmann is on the Board of Directors for the Empire State Honey Producers, The Western New York Honey Producers, is Vice President of the Russian Honey Bee Breeders, and has served as President of the Western New York Honey Producers.
Bob sees the future of beekeeping a bit bleak for the industry as pesticides, treatments, monocultures and poor-bee nutrition elevate the stress on colonies, but has great hope for the small beekeepers. Bob feels that resistant stock in conjunction with well developed models of management (see Kirk Webster) on organic farms are the tools to seeing long term sustainability, profitability, and really great honey.
“Pay attention, work with the bees.”
Bob encourages local beekeeping organizations to continue to teach the community how fun and interesting bees are, to emphasize how incredibly interesting these critters are and what a world of knowledge they can introduce, “a panoply of possibilities for study.”
What is the most common question you get a s a beekeeper?
“‘How are the bees doing now?’ – CCD mania is still somewhat with us.”
**Cheektowaga is Seneca/Ioquoian for The Place of The Crab Apple Tree
***In 2012 Bob was involved in an accident that injured his feet and legs, debilitating him. Bob is slowly recovering and can snow shoe out to his apiary with lessening pain every week. If not for the tireless work of his crew and his son Trevor, his beekeeping business would have not survived the 2012 season.