The Buzz on Beekeeping
Managing hives is fun, rewarding,
area beekeepers say
Many helpful sources available to get one started
November 2017 Cover
(November 2017) – With bees, people are either scared or not bothered by them. But most of the time, bees are just misunderstood.
Beekeepers however, understand and embrace them. Whether it is just as a hobbyist or a sideliner or a professional, beekeepers all have one thing in common: a passion for bees and beekeeping.
One Madison, Ind., beekeeper, Bob Mann, 58, works in logistics. But in his free time he is a small beekeeping hobbyist. Mann has only been beekeeping honeybees for a little under three years, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know his information.
“I’ve learned a lot from being a moderator of a beekeepers forum on Facebook, which has over 30,000 members. It’s specifically geared towards newbies,” he said. “I’ve also learned from the Southeastern Indiana Beekeepers Associations, which meets up in Moores Hill, Ind., every third Thursday a month.”
Honeybees thrive on keeping a strong colony to produce honey. Every colony has a queen bee, which lays around 2,000 eggs each day. The worker bees (females) do multipl things depending on age, such as forging, guarding the entrance of he colony, nursing and more. The drones (males) pretty much do nothing.
The drones are usually a fatter, longer, and a bigger type of bee with eyes that go all the way around their head. The queen bee mates with multiple different drones at a time for her egg laying. The drones don’t go out and collect nectar or pollen, like the worker bees, but their job is to seek queen bees.
The drones cluster together in a small cloud called Drone Congregation Areas, which attracts the queen bee based on smell and pheromones. Once the drone mates with a queen, however, it dies. The queen mates with 4 to 6, or even up to 12 different drones before she returns to the hive, and within a couple days, lays hers eggs. There are normally about 10-15 percent drones found in a hive in the spring, but the worker bees kick them out in the fall and have to fend for themselves in the wintertime.
It’s interesting to discover how exactly one becomes a “queen bee.” Most beekeepers don’t know the exact answer, but most can come up with their own theories.
Photo courtesy of Tami Hagemier, Lanthier Winery
Madison, Ind., resident and hobby beekeeper Bob Mann collects a swarm of bees that migrated into a tree outside of Lanthier Winery this past summer.
Mann has his own theory of how it’s done. “I don’t know the exact answer, but I think it is how they are fed. It’s the Royal jelly, the enzymes and protein that they get. When I “draft,” I use an artificial queen cell, or a queen cup, and move the eggs into that cell (three day old eggs) and if there is no queen in the colony, the bees will say ‘Hey, lets make a queen.’ So determining the queen is based on size and age of the egg or early larvae technically.”
Now if a queen bee is sick, and the worker bees can tell that she is ill, they will get rid of her and use her eggs to create a queen of their own.
“There might be 6-10 queen cells in there, and in about the same 24-hour period, they will all hatch. The first one out, just by genetics, knows to go to those other queen eggs cells and puncture them and destroy those queens that are in there. If she cannot find them, since sometimes they are in other frames and they miss a couple, you end up with a couple queen bees, and they do a thing call piping. Queens do a cricket call squeal, and you can hear it. It’s really neat. But they will fight it out, and the winner will be the queen of the colony,” Mann explained.
Getting started in beekeeping is easy. Typically, people start this hobby because of previous family members that have already done it.
“I wish I started 20 years ago,” Mann said. “My grandfather was a beekeeper. He pollinated some orchards in Westchester, Mass. Back when I was an adolescent, he would send complete frames of honey, the whole thing right out of the hive, all packaged up from the East Coast to Hanover, Ind., where we were raised. Those (frames) were great, and I will never forgot that. It’s something I’m going to offer eventually.”
There are three different levels of beekeeping. You can become a hobbyist, which could consists of 1-20 hives; a sideliner, which is more like a small business with around 200 hives; or the commercial professionals, which do beekeeping full time and sell to commercial stores.
Photo by Sam Swartz
Bob Mann works with one of his many bee hives located in his back yard in downtown Madison, Ind. Mann says he wished he had started the hobby much earlier in life.
There are also different types of hives, according to another source, Terry McDonald, the president of the Oldham County (Ky.) Beekeeping Association. “I’m a top bar beekeeper and a langstroth keeper. A top bar is a rectangle box with legs. Since beekeeping is heavy work, your typical hives can be very heavy, which is a lot a weight for a small person like me to lift. So with the top bar, you only inspect one bar at a time, instead of lifting the whole box, which makes it easier for me. Most beekeepers typically use the more common typically used hive, which is the langstroth.”
The Bohman family in Hanover, Ind., have a small beekeeping business called Bohman Beekeeping Co. They are considered sideliners. This level of beekeeping consists of more vigorous work, a lot more hives and even some technology to help with the workload process. Kevin Bohman, 28, who works full time at Madison Precision Products, started beekeeping in the same way as Mann did. Within many generations, the Bohman’s family all ended up becoming beekeepers.
His father, John Bohman, 56, started beekeeping after his father tried to start back up again in 1980 after the Varroa mites started becoming a big problem. This problem led to the big CDD, Colony Collapse Disorder in 2006-2007.The CDD is an occurrence that strikes when a majority of worker bees in the colony disappear and leave behind their queen and results in immature bees. This crisis causes a lot of bees to die and really decreases the bee population. This causes beekeepers to stop beekeeping because it was so hard to keep the bees alive.
Krispn Given, an Apiculture Specialist at Purdue University’s Department of Entomology in West Lafayette Ind., said, “We did not experience CCD in Indiana, where all the bees just disappeared with out a trace. Was it cell phone towers? No. Was it pesticides, blood sucking Varroa mites, viruses? Perhaps so. CCD is a syndrome comprising of a conglomeration of factors contributing to colony mortality, death by a thousand cuts.”
Unfortunately, since the 1980s, the bee population has fluctuated up and down since the Varroa Mites became a problem, and with not knowing the proper procedures to keep these honeybees alive, there weren’t many beekeepers around at that time.
“The consensus now among researchers is beekeepers are losing in excess of 30-40 percent of the colonies annually due to Varroa Destructor, and also modernity the loss of habitat. When I kept bees as a child in the early ’80s, 12 percent was considered normal loss. Some pesticides, like Neonicotinoids that are coated on just about every corn and soybean seed planted today in the country, also kills bees.
Photo courtesy of Purdue Extension Service
Krispn Given instrumentally inseminates a mite-biter queen bee at the Purdue University Honey Bee laboratory.
He said that in spring, mortality is often due to pesticide use. But other factors contribute to colony mortality, like the parasitic Varroa mite.
“I encourage anybody to try it, give it a shot. It’s not for everyone. Such as if you have small children, it’s probably not for you yet, but it could be later. You have to respect the bee’s space and see that they are healthy; you are their caretaker. You hope for it to turn out for the best, and if along the way you get a few pounds of honey, that’s awesome.”
“The recent decline in honey bee colonies has been blamed for an increase in some food prices,” Krispn said.
Since Indiana has been lucky enough to not been hit with this horrible destructor, all the Indiana beekeepers are working harder than ever to prevent this from happening and keeping an eye open for any unusual behavior.
Although not everyone is cut out to do beekeeping, all beekeepers do encourage people to give it a shot. McDonald really wants to inform the public what it really takes to becoming a beekeeper (through the Oldham County Beekeeping), but it’s not to be taken lightly. And she really encourages people to understand what it all consists of before jumping into it.
“I want people to do the footwork first if you want to truly understand what it takes to be a beekeeper. The cost involved can be upwards of $350 to $400 to start. It’s suggested to start in the spring, but actually this time of year is a perfect time to start doing research, to understand what you’re getting into.
“Get involved with a bee club, watch videos and read up on it. A lot of new beekeepers get started, but then bees die in the summer because they made a mistake or their bees die through the winter. Then they have to start all over again because it’s different; it’s not like raising a puppy. So to be a really successful beekeeper, it takes time and you really have to learn it,” McDonald said.
Mann, who has strived throughout the last three years, currently has 15 strong hives and hopes to add 10 new colonies next year, depending on the winter survival rate. Being a beekeeper, checking the hives on a regular basis is key.
“For winter months, I compact the extra space, if there is any, and put a screen on the hive to protect it. Winter prep, is work from behind the hive. When it gets down to around 40 degrees, they do a thing called clustering. They will cluster up and vibrate and rotate in and out of this ball. They generate heat just from the body muscles. And the queen is in the middle.
“Even in the winter, the queen is 90 degrees inside the cluster even if it is 0 degrees outside. I’ll add a little insulation just as an additional guarantee because I have a lot of time involved and invested in the hives,” Bob said.
In a nutshell, bees are pollinators and need nectar and pollen to produce honey but need a suitable environment.
“If you look around, there are not a lot of mono crops around here. We are kind of historic district, so what bees are getting here is what people have in their yards such as flowering trees. There’s a bunch of locust trees and there’s basswood trees in town, flowering fruit frees, and I also have some peach trees just down the road,” Mann mentioned.
When honeybees collect from these sources, it helps with the production of honey within their hive.
In basic terminology, Kevin Bohman explains what the honeybees do. “It’s called forging. The bees forge for pollen and nectar. Nectar is their food source and pollen is the protein they use to maintain nutrition.
“The nectar is basically what honey is. So they have a second stomach that they gather the nectar in and these enzymes come out when they deposit it into the comb and dehydrate the nectar, which then turns into the honey.”
Honeybees spend their whole lifetime collecting these materials for honey and the process just circulates and repeats every year. There are certain times of the year that you get the most from their bees.
“We call this honey flow,” John Bohman said “In the spring there is a lot of nectar available and they fill up a box of honey in a day. When it’s summer and fall, it slows down a lot. An interesting fact is that bees travel 2 million miles to make one pound of honey. One bee will contribute 1/12 of a teaspoon in their lifetime. So it takes a lot of bees, a lot of trips and a lot of flying to make honey.”
On average, honey bees produce between 80-100 pounds of honey a year within their colony.
“It’s based on location and weather, and colony strength and you need a very strong colony to make honey. It’s a self-fulfilling addiction, if you will, in that respect you at least hope it will sustain itself, since it’s a hobby. I enjoy the honey and enjoy working with the bees,” Mann said.
With the proper education about bees and beekeeping, anyone can learn to do it, McDonald said.
“A lot of beekeepers are of the older generations so, we need more young people to understand the hobby and understand bees, beekeeping and the significance of their survival. My goal would be for more people to be educated about it,” McDonald said.
From Mann’s perspective, he just wants everyone to at least give it a chance.
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