• Madison Wynne

A {BEE}usy Month!

Hello beautiful people, it has been a hot minute! Let me say, I have DEFINITELY missed posting on my blog, but when college calls my name I must answer! It has been a busy month and a half, but I am ready to try and get back on track with my mission and continue my industry visits to share my experiences and knowledge. With that...


I had the opportunity to help with the Texas FFA SDEs this past July, where I experienced many individuals repetitively talk about one common thing: pollinators. As I listened to these students and learned more about bees and other pollinators, I had to learn more! After research, I reached out to a business in Commerce, TX called Timber Creek Apiaries, a local bee yard and honey business. I thought it would be an interesting way to learn more about bees and the honey crop itself, but I got WAY more out of it than I thought. Hayden Chrisman, a local TAMUC college student and beekeeper, is a 19-year-old who started his beekeeping business 5 years ago after receiving a scholarship in Collin County to start his bee yard, a scholarship program he now helps run today. Starting with only one hive and a spark of interest in the beekeeping business, Hayden flourished within the industry and created this hobby into something more! He has transformed his 1 hive into around 300-400 hives in 4 different yards across Hunt County just within these 5 years. Not only does this young man locally produce honey, but he annually ships his bees out to California to pollinate the almond orchards and personally breeds queen bees himself. I had the privilege to learn from him and got to experience a career that is absolutely overlooked in the agriculture industry. 


Before I even get into beekeeping, I HAVE to say that this field is one where you have to know about science and understand bee habits (not only for production reasons, but for safety too). Not only do you have to be mentally knowledgeable to handle these bees and begin production, but you must have access to the gear and equipment to go out and manage your hives. This includes boxes, different devices, and even a suit. (YES, I did wear the suit and YES, it was so cool to get up close with the bees)!!!! This gear is so essential to protect you from stings of bees (in case they are "hot bees", or simply defensive bees). When we first stepped out to the pasture to get to the hives, Hayden had this smoker that was flamed and producing smoke. The smoker is just a small hand-held device that is made to puff smoke out after hay/straw is lit by a flame. The theory behind the use of a smoker is it's supposed to simulate a fire, help calm them and essentially distract them from what is going on (when a fire happens, they will gorge the honey and this helps reduce their chances of feeling threatened when opening up these containers). In addition, the smoke is supposed to cover up alarm pheromones bee stings release as a signal to defend their hives.

         *side note: a bee only stings when they feel threatened. If you are calm and respectful of their hive, they will be gentle and mind their own business! They are never a bother and only get defensive if they feel their community is in danger. 

As we arrived at his 100-150 hive bee yard, he cracked open a box and started to dive into the basics of beekeeping. When looking at these boxes, they looked a lot like file storage bins (of course they aren't, but just to get a visual idea) with thick plastic slides that carried the bee's honeycomb wax and storage of eggs/larva, honey, nectar, pollen, and bee bread. As little as it may seem to us, the beeswax is so important to beekeepers because, in order to produce wax, you need honey....and in order to have honey, you have to have wax combs to store the crop. The reason it is so valuable is because 8-10 lbs. of honey must be consumed to just produce 1 lb. of wax, which means they consume more than they generate. Without wax, they would not be able to have any space to store their larva nor food supply.

The food supply stored in the honeycombs is crucial for each bee and keeping the colony going. Things that are included in their food supply are:


  • Bee Bread: just a combination of pollen and honey to make a food source for the larva and worker bees. It's a good source of protein (from the pollen) and carbohydrates (from the honey) for those bees and developing larva. 

  • Nectar: This is what is brought from the flowers to make honey. This is consumed by the bee at first into a separate stomach where enzymes are then injected into the nectar. When this happens, the worker bee deposits it in a cell and they begin the curing process. Nectar contains a lot of water, so when it is stored it is fanned till the water content is around 18% water. At that point, it is now honey! 

  • Honey: The crop that is made from the bee colony! It can be used for bees to produce wax (because humans cannot produce wax), to feed the bees in the hive, or for keepers to harvest.


One of the other important uses for the wax cells is its use for eggs and larva, also known as brood. When eggs are laid, it takes them 3 days to actually hatch. After they hatch, they are then fed royal jelly for three days and switched to bee bread (for worker bees) or continuously fed royal jelly (for queen bees). In total, it takes 21 days for an egg to become a fully functional worker bee.

*FUN FACT: ALL worker bees are females/underdeveloped queen bees while all male bees are considered drones (and only hatch from unfertilized worker bee eggs). 

Within the colony, you can clearly see there are different titles for different bees, so lemme break down different kinds of bees REAL QUICK: 


  • Worker Bees: These suckers create a majority of the hive, about 95% actually. These are the ones that are on the move 24/7 to collect honey, help keep up with the food supply, and manage the hives by cleaning the hive, caring for the queen, guarding the hive, and taking care of the brood. They take on different roles throughout their lifetime in order to help keep the hive in order, with these different tasks come with their “title”, like the nurse bee or guard bee.

  • Drones: These are going to be the male bees of the colony. Something interesting about them is that they actually DON'T have a stinger and their purpose in the hive is to help reproduce with queen bees outside of their hives to keep hives going.

  • Queen Bee: The queen is extremely special to the colony because they are what keep the colony thriving and very much alive. They are not really the "queen" of the colony, but since she manages the population for the WHOLE hive (laying up to 2000 eggs a day to maintain the 1% daily decrease of the population) she rules out as a queen. Not only that, but her pheromones given off help keep her in the colony and if there comes a point where she is kicked out for not doing her job or is removed from the hive, a new queen is made IMMEDIATELY. However, what makes them additionally so important is the fact that a hive can only function 30 days without a queen before they start to tank.




I don't know about you, but one thing I was curious to know about is how in the WORLD do these bees stay alive during the winter?? Hayden addressed my question simply by stating that they utilize the honey to survive. Going more in-depth, he talked about how the honey stored for winter (which is an abundant supply) helps insulate the hive to keep everything warm and then the hive feeds off of whatever they have. Not only that, but the bees spend their time taking turns going towards the outer areas of their hive to huddle together and keep the middle section warm (kind of like how penguins huddle to keep warm). In fact, Hayden says they actually live longer during the winter than they do in the summer because they simply don't work themselves as much. However, weather can be a concern for the hive, only if their populations aren’t big enough to keep the hives warm!

So, the real question y'all are probably wondering...WHY should we save the bees? How do we even do it? What is the benefit of rescuing bees? Bees are simply one of, if not the, most IMPORTANT factor in our food production throughout the world, making up around 1/3 of all our food. Just imagine, with a growing population, 1/3 of our food disappearing??? We would not be able to all survive at that point with a food shortage like that (I mean...we saw how people reacted with just a pandemic and that situation was NOT good!). However, I know many individuals complain about having bees around their pool or backyard area and declare these bees are out to GET THEM. I promise you; bees are SO GENTLE and mean no harm! They only hang around these areas because 

1) they are looking for a source of food and water.... the best of both worlds are areas of flowers surrounded by fountains, birdbaths, and pools 

2) They hang around pools because it is a cooling source for them and their hives during the summer and the minerals in the water attract them to the source. 


All in all, they are just trying to look for something to drink and help the colony survive. So how can you protect beehives and get involved? There are many ways that you can do this, but I am only going to give these main points:


  • Want them out of your way? Try starting a pollinator garden a distance away! In that garden, set up a birdbath too, so that way they have a closer water source for them to utilize during summer months! Wondering what flowers to plant, no problem! Bees generally like any flowers (however, they do like some more than others! Dig into some research if you're curious to find ones they like in particular), but regardless, they'll go wherever they want to go!

  • Still don't want them near your house? Go online and contact your local beekeepers near the area and most of them would be HAPPY to safely relocate your hive to a place that is away from you and happy for the colony to adjust to. 

  • Are you wanting to get involved in beekeeping? No matter where you are, city or pastures, they can survive pretty much anywhere (they can travel up to 6 miles away from the hive to collect food supply)! In the city, there is so much landscape around town, and on other people's balconies that it is EASY to find sources for them to get to. I do not know much about beekeeping, but I've joined groups on Facebook, researched associations, and even reached out to different beekeepers to learn more about what I can do and how I can even start! 


Not only is it neat to see these bees in action, but it is fun to see what kind of honey crop they produce! Different flowers can create a unique taste and color in honey! It can be anywhere from light-colored and sweet to being dark and earthy...even bitter! The process of harvesting and making the honey can all be done at home, which is what Hayden does! All of his bottles start from his bee yards and don't leave the property till it is strained and sealed in a bottle! And let me tell you, this honey is DELICIOUS...I've been eating it with everything (and I don't even LIKE honey.... well, that might change LOL). 

As you can see, a lot of work goes into the beekeeping business, and I'm only scratching the surface! I could honestly write a novel about beekeeping, but I'll save you an additional 30 minutes! If you are ever interested in being involved with such an amazing industry, you can contact local beekeepers and associations to see how you can start! If you rather save bees at a distance, just be sure to support your local beekeepers and avoid harming hives by contacting those beekeepers to assist you in any way possible! Bees are SO important to our food supply globally and we want to make sure we are protecting them at all costs!

Thanks for reading! Save the bees and go local!


Links:

Timber Creek Apiaries: https://www.timbercreekapiaries.com/

Texas BeeKeeper Association: https://texasbeekeepers.org/local-beekeeper-associations/

TAMU Honey Bee Lab: https://honeybeelab.tamu.edu/


#Missunitedstatesagriculture #TXMISSUSAG #agriculture #beenice #honey #honeybee #beekeeping #bee #teachag #agvocate #huntcounty #2020huntcountymissusag


 
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