When Nick Wigle first heard about Colony Collapse Disorder, he knew he had to do something. And, as usual, he decided to go big. As Nick became more and more immersed in the world of bees, he found a unique niche for himself out in Santa Barbara, CA in the field of professional bee removal—an interesting hybrid of beekeeping and pest removal.
But Nick isn't an exterminator, and he definitely doesn't use pesticides or anything that could significantly harm the bees. Instead, he puts in the extra time and effort to safely relocate the hives (and their residents) to ensure that the bees prosper. Thanks to his hard work and diligence, 95% or more of any given hive usually survives. Our hero!
As a true environmentalist and self-proclaimed "bee-vangelist", Nick isn't just saving bees from demolition, but he is also dedicated to spreading the word about the importance of bees and what they mean to the environment. We had the chance to catch up with Nick to discuss his unexpected yet deeply rewarding foray into beekeeping, the importance of bees in our environment, and what Super Bee Rescue is all about...
How long have you been a beekeeper?
I started beekeeping in 2009, so it has been a wild, 8 year ride. I started apprenticing under a master beekeeper with 600 hives, and I have just gotten deeper into bees since then.
What inspired you to start beekeeping?
Colony collapse disorder was everywhere in the news and I wanted to get involved. I lucked into an apprentice position and started to learn all about the bees. Beekeeping came naturally to me. I have always felt I belong outside and have worked with nature all my life. But when I learned that beekeepers were losing large numbers of hives, I also found out that local exterminators in our area were killing 1000s of hives every year. And that's how the idea for Super Bee Rescue came about.
Tell us three lessons that you’ve learnt from the bees.
I have learned so much from the bees, but the main lessons are: Mother nature is more powerful and intelligent than we give her credit, fear of nature is usually based in lack of knowledge, and there is never enough time in a day.
How has working closely with bees changed your perception of nature or the world around us?
Working with the bees has taught me to think both smaller and larger. I have to think about small things like varroa mites and large things like weather patterns and city, county, state and federal laws. It has really expanded the way I think and, in turn, perceive the things that go on around me. Also, I now seem to see the world more similar to how a bee does—I am constantly looking for forage opportunities and possible hive locations.
What’s your favorite thing about being a beekeeper?
I love going out and working with the bees. The smells, sights and sounds from the hive are intoxicating. I also enjoy when the non-beekeeping public see what I do and thinks it’s some sort of magic.
Tell us about your most memorable experience with your bees in your first year.
One story that has shaped what I do is that, when I was starting, I would continuously get calls about “free bees” that a homeowner would want to share with me. I would ask where they were, and I would get answers like: in the walls, roof, a tree or other difficult place. I would then ask the homeowner what I would get for removing the bees. They would say I would get the bees and we could share the honey in exchange for my 4-8 hours of work. As a final thought, they would add, "And you will fix the area you remove the bees from, right?”
I spent so much time then explaining why I can’t work for free. Now we have gotten to a point where we rarely get asked about free bees and our time is valued like other professionals.
What surprised you the most in your first year as a beekeeper?
The most unexpected thing for me was being able to turn my passion into a paying job in one of the most expensive places to live in the world, Santa Barbara.
For those out there who fear the bees, what words of advice do you have to clear up this misconception?
Bees are cows with wings. If you get to know them, you will see they are cuddly. Learn as much as you can, as I find that curiosity and wonder will outweigh fear and misunderstandings.
How do you respond to people who question the practices of taking and consuming bee products?
I have learned not to argue with those who are making decisions on what they feel is best for their bodies and fits with their ethics. I have never changed someone’s mind. I will say that I have several vegans that purchase honey from me as my honey is taken from hives inside homes that would otherwise be exterminated. Because the bees would drown in the honey during the removal, we need to remove as much as possible, and only give the bees back a portion of it. My clients feel that this is an ethical harvest and buying honey from me supports saving bees and causing less suffering.
I invite people to check out our website www.superbeerescue.com and check out our videos of what we do to love and save the bees. Once people understand what we do, I have not experienced much push back about our products.
Due to widespread pesticide usage, do you ever have trouble finding and maintaining clean space for the bees?
It has been difficult to find a place to keep bees. One of the major problems in our area is the cut flowers—which are sprayed weekly to kill insects. We also have heavy spraying on the citrus for Asian Citrus Psyllid and Thrips on avocado. We have lost many hives to pesticides and notice a general weakness in agriculture areas as compared with the hives in urban environments. I think, as beekeepers, we need to share our experiences and advocate for change.
In Santa Barbara, people are very conscious of the bees and their importance. Through public education many of the local pest control companies have switched from exterminating bees as a pest to live bee removal. There is still a lot of room for growth, but I have hope.
In North America we have experienced serious issues with Colony Collapse Disorder over the last decade. How has CCD affected you?
We have only had a few confirmed cases of CCD in our area. Mostly, we have been able to explain many of the die-offs and problems in the hives. We have found that varroa mites, poor nutrition and pesticides are a toxic cocktail that together lead to the death of many hives.
Is there a neonicotinoid or other pesticide issue in your area? Is the government doing anything to reduce or ban the use of pesticides?
Use of the systemic pesticide imidacloprid is widespread in our area to the detriment of the bees. We live in an area where the label is the law, but it seems that off-label use is common, especially by unlicensed pesticide applicators who purchase the chemicals from a hardware store for commercial use.
Any advice for up and coming beekeepers out there?
There are so many facets of beekeeping. I want to express that performing live bee removal in an urban environment can be a fulfilling job. The culture of “free bee removal” takes time to change. However, if you are a professional and can prove that you are worth what you charge, removals can be as lucrative, if not more so, than the other parts of your beekeeping enterprises.