Beekeepers Workshop Addresses Bee Decline


CATAWBA, Va. — The message from a recent workshop here is that while the honeybee population is declining, there are people who are concerned enough to want to personally do something to correct the trend.

The workshop was held June 1 and was sponsored by the Catawba Sustainability Center, which is located in beautiful Craig County, Va., between two mountain ranges.

The idea for the workshop grew out of the conversations between Josh Nease, manager of the center, and Mark Chorba, a well-known beekeeper in the Roanoke Valley, about having beehives at the center.

“I was looking for someone to bring bees to the farm,” Nease said while taking time out from helping with the class at the farm.

He said that Chorba not only agreed to bring bees to the center but to also teach a class.

“The time was good since there has been a lot of TV and newspaper coverage” about the decline of bee populations, Nease indicated.

The center is located on property that was once home to the dairy farm of the Catawba Sanitarium, a hospital for treating tuberculosis patients.

Approximately 20 people paid $100 for the 12-hour workshop that included lots of classroom instruction and then a visit to the hives Nease had gotten for the farm.

Chorba, known as the “bee whisperer,” taught classes the first day of the workshop and part of the second day before taking the students over the mountain to the hives. The students were protected from the bees by wearing beekeeping suits.

He is the 2013 president of the New River Valley Beekeepers Association, the largest beekeeper association in Virginia.

Chorba’s home base is his small farm in Copper Hill, Floyd County, where he maintains his own 25 colonies of honeybees. He also tends to adjacent apiaries in Montgomery, Franklin and Roanoke counties.

Nease estimated about half of the participants wanted to keep bees for a hobby and for the honey, while the others were moved by a desire to improve the bee population.

He noted this past winter was really hard on the commercial bee industry with some apiaries losing between 30 and 50 percent of their bees.

Nease stressed that a goal of his work is to bring bees in the valley up to a sustainable level. He noted that people cannot rely on commercial beekeepers.

“Hobby beekeepers are one way to do this,” he said.

“It’s one of the best decisions I ever made,” Piper Cumbo said of her participation in the workshop.

She explained that her grandmother had kept bees and that she herself had developed a life-long interest as a result. Cumbo said beekeeping was not as hard in her grandmother’s day because some of the problems facing apiarists today did not exist back then.

Cumbo wants to keep bees, but she faces problems with some neighbors — black bears that roam the mountains and valley. They love honey. This means she will have to find a way to keep the bears away from her hives.

“The Virginia Tech Catawba Sustainability Center is an experiential showcase on 377 acres in the Catawba Valley,” the facility’s website states. “With research plus demonstration projects from multiple Virginia Tech colleges, the center is creating a positive model for a sustainable world.”

Karie Gillian, administrator and program coordinator for the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center, said the Catawba facility works under the Roanoke Center.

She, along with Nease, explained some of the history of the farm, which is located in the Upper James River basin in the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“We’re teaching people to take care of themselves,” Nease said.

The facility gets almost $1 million in funding annually. Sources of the funding include the Blue Moon Fund, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Forest Service, Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, and Virginia Tech colleges and departments with funded projects.


Two more good reasons to come to Catawba, VA!

 Come help us start the blueberry orchard!

Proposed site of the blueberry orchard at the Catawba Sustainability Center.

On Friday, November 16, we’re planting the first installment of blueberry bushes at the Catawba Sustainability Center. We’ll be getting started at 9:00 a.m. and, with the help of a few good volunteers, will be done by noon. If you own a shovel and work gloves, bring them, if you don’t, borrow ours. 
Please RSVP if you think you will make it out! We’ll meet at the CSC by the main gate.
Catawba Valley Holiday Market
The Catawba Valley Farmers Market is hosting an exciting shopping opportunity for the holiday season! The Catawba Valley “Holiday Market,” will feature the farmers’ market vendors and many other local artisans. You can expect to find a variety of locally crafted items, from delicious baked goods and historical cookbooks to handcrafted note cards and aromatic wreaths. The Catawba Valley Holiday Market will be held at the Catawba Community Center, next to the Post Office on Catawba Creek Road, on November 17, 2012 from 9am to 4pm. Food will be prepared and available for purchase throughout the day.

 Two good reasons to come to Catawba, VA!

  • November 16, 9am to 12 noon: Volunteer to Help Plant the Blueberry Orchard
  • November 17, 9am to 4pm: Start your Christmas shopping early at the Catawba Valley Holiday Market.

Restoring American Chestnuts

A beautiful Friday morning at the American chestnut nursery at the Catawba Sustainability Center.

High on a ridge at the Catawba Sustainability Center grow 54 American chestnut(Castenea dentata) trees. These trees are expected to die a few years from now, succumbing to chesnut blight(Cryphonectria parasitica), but not before a local arborist and other community volunteers can collect their pollen. You see, these trees, while not resistant to chestnut blight, are an important step on the long road to restoring our forests with a blight resistant American chesnut.

If you look hard enough and know who to ask, you can find mature American chestnut trees in Virginia. These trees may not be completely resistant to the blight, but have been resistant enough to survive and continue to grow, flower, and produce seeds. Restoring the species, however, is not as simple as collecting and planting seeds from these resistant trees, because not all of the tree’s offspring have the perfect genetic combination of dominant and recessive traits that give the parent tree its high level of blight resistance.

The process will take years and begins by backcrossing an American chestnut with a Chinese chestnut, a completely blight resistant species. The American/Chinese chestnut offspring are then innoculated with chestnut blight; the survivors are resistant. This process is then repeated multiple times, backrossing the resistant offspring with mature, resistant American chestnuts until the result will be a 15/16 American chestnut, possessing the blight resistant dominant trait.

These restoration efforts are taking place throughout the tree’s original range and are being backcrossed with trees native to the area where they are being grown. This way, the genetics of the regional strain are kept. This is important so that trees with the perfect genetics to grow in the climate and soils of Catawba and southwestern Virginia are planted regionally where they once thrived.

For more information on the restoration of the American chestnut, check out the American Chestnut Foundation website: and the American Chestnut Restoration Project website:

A young American chesnut blows in the breeze at the CSC in the Catawba Valley.


Virginia Farm to Table Conference: December 5-6, 2012

From the website:

Virginia Cooperative Extension and Natural Resources Conservation Service, in cooperation with community partners, are hosting the 2012 Virginia Farm to Table Conference and Buy Fresh Buy Local Networking Mixer to address food and farming at a profitable and sustainable scale. The two-day conference will be of interest to producers, buyers, school and university officials, community and agricultural development officers, legislators, administrators, and other key food system stakeholders.

This conference will focus on encouraging collaboration, conservation, and community. The agenda addresses critical challenges surrounding a sustainable local food system. The first day will specifically focus on sustainable farming, conservation, soil health and a vision for Virginia agriculture with a particular emphasis on scale and mid-level farming.

Good conservation leads to healthy soils, which leads to healthy foods. We are pleased to welcome Ray Archuleta, a Conservation Agronomist with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Soil Quality Team. Ray is a dynamic speaker with a passion for soil health.

The evening of the first day will also include an evening speaker (i.e., Michael Shuman, author of Local Dollars, Local Sense) and a Buy Fresh Buy Local mixer for producers and buyers.

The second day will focus on community-based investing, natural resource capital investment, models of collaboration and cooperation, along with discussion about how to move the Virginia Farm to Table Plan and initiatives forward.

Panel discussion and presentations of Virginia-based examples and work in the area will be interspersed with resource speakers over the two days.



2012 Catawba Valley Holiday Market

As the days get shorter, so does the length of our growing season. As a result, the Catawba Valley Farmers’ Market, held on Thursday evenings from May – October, have come to an end. However, you have one more chance to get your favorite Catawba Valley products at the 2012 Catawba Valley Holiday Market on November 17.

The holiday market will feature the familiar faces and products of the Catawba Valley Farmers’ Market, plus many new local food, art, and craft vendors from throughout the region. Stop in for some early Christmas shopping and a hot lunch!

The Catawba Valley Holiday Market

Saturday, November 17, 2012

9:00 a.m.—4:00 p.m.

 Catawba Community Center

4965 Catawba Creek Road, Catawba, VA

Just off 311, past the Post Office

Visit the Catawba Valley Farmers Market Facebook Page for more information.!/pages/Catawba-Valley-Farmers-Market/129469157077509?fref=ts