Honey bees are mainly responsible for pollinating our food crops, as well as providing wax and honey, but that’s not all they do to help the human population.
Despite their positive impact, the insect’s numbers are slowly dwindling, and many people may not know about the benefits of keeping bees alive and healthy.
Luckily, organizations such as the Crystal Coast Beekeepers Association are on hand to educate the public about the bees, common misconceptions about them and what the general public can do to ensure their safety.
“Beekeeping is hot, heavy and hard work,” said beekeeper Janet Keethler of South River. “It’s a very expensive hobby.”
Despite the hard work and expenses, she is hooked.
Ms. Keethler started beekeeping roughly 11 years ago and said each day is a new adventure.
“You never stop learning about them,” she said.
Her adventure started when she was trying to find local honey and was encouraged to take a beekeeping class.
“I got hooked,” she said. “I took a bee class. It gives you all the basics. If you don’t have the basics, you’re up a creek.”
The Crystal Coast Beekeepers Association will host a beginners’ class, similar to the one Ms. Keethler took, in September.
The course is from 8-noon Saturdays Sept. 7, Sept. 14, Sept. 21 and Sept. 28. It will be conducted in the Morehead City Parks and Recreation Department’s W.S. King room at 1600 Fisher St., Morehead City.
The class is $65, which includes the first year’s membership to the Crystal Coast Beekeepers Association and the N.C. State Beekeepers Association.
Eric Talley will host the class. Those interested in signing up should preregister with Crystal Coast Beekeepers Association President Marie Kight at 252-504-8305 or email@example.com. There are only 50 seats available.
Ms. Keethler said anyone can bee keep as long as they have an interest in bees, but she compared keeping up with their needs to taking care of a puppy.
“If you’re going to tie it up on a chain, don’t bother,” she said.
Ms. Keethler said she jumped into the hobby feet first, and it’s best to find a good mentor who knows about bees and how to properly care for them.
She currently has five hives, but she has had up to 27 at one point. A good, healthy hive has 60,000-plus bees.
Ms. Keethler said she usually goes in her hives to check on the bees about twice a week. However, if the situation arises, she will go in as needed.
When she ventured out to her hives June 1, she noticed one queen was missing, though eggs were present. This caused Ms. Keetheler to open the hive again June 5.
“I want to make sure she’s still there,” she said.
In the hive, there are worker bees, drones and the queen. A common misconception about bees is the queen rules all. Ms. Keethler said that is not the case.
“The queen does not rule the hive,” Ms. Keethler said. “She holds it together, but the workers make the decisions.”
The queen bee lays the eggs that spawn the hive’s next generation of bees. She also produces chemicals that guide the behavior of other bees.
The worker bees are all females, and they forage for pollen and nectar from flowers and build and protect the hive. Drones are male bees. Their purpose is to mate with the queen.
In the hive, the bees are hard at work making honey and preparing for the winter. They have specific requirements for the hive.
Each frame within the hive must be three-eighths inches apart. This is the same space the bees would use in nature. If the space is too big, the bees will rework it to fit their needs.
While working, the bees create honey and propolis, the glue of the honey bee.
Propolis is a mixture honey bees produce using saliva and beeswax from the sap gathered from parts of plants or tree sap. The bees use it as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive.
Pollination is the key factor to keeping bees healthy, but if there is not enough pollen around, beekeepers have to be ready at all times to keep the bees fed during the winter.
They can do this by feeding them supplement pollen in a patty form. Bees can also drink sugar water, but it is not as healthy for them as the pollen they would find in nature.
Ms. Keethler said it is important not to harvest the fresh honey so the bees have something to eat during the winter.
She said there are other important things to know about bees:
• Like most other animals, bees are affected by the weather.
• Bees are directed by the sun.
• Bees always move in an upward direction.
• A smoker tool is a beekeeper’s best friend. The smoke needs to be cool, otherwise it will burn the bees.
• If you are stung by a bee, flick the stinger away from the area. If you pinch the stinger to remove it, it will inject more venom into the stung area.
As well as the tough task of keeping hives, Ms. Keethler said other factors play into beekeeping troubles. Additionally, all pollinators are in trouble, not just bees.
“It’s enjoyable, fascinating, but it’s difficult,” she said. “It’s more and more difficult to keep them alive.”
She said recent years have been hard on bee hives. Pesticides and chemicals are harming the bees, but Ms. Keethler said the most common problem in this area is the varroa mite.
“They can really mess up a hive, mess up a bee,” Ms. Keethler said.
The parasites get in the hives by attaching themselves to bees.
“People use chemicals to kill them, but it’s hard to kill a bug on a bug,” she said.
Ms. Keethler is against using chemical treatments. Instead of pesticides and other chemicals, she uses a 1:1 ratio of sugar water to treat the hives.
Weather also plays a factor. During Hurricane Florence, Ms. Keethler lost four of her hives.
The Crystal Coast Beekeepers Association
Beekeeping is just part of what members of the association do.
Ms. Kight said the group uses their meeting time to socialize with other beekeepers to learn about the trade, as well.
“We feed off each other and help each other,” she said. We will call each other or wait for the meetings.”
She said the main purpose of the group was “having a group of people who have a desire to make sure the bees are happy.”
The association meets from 7 to 8 p.m. the second Monday of the month at the Morehead City Parks and Recreation Center. Meetings typically include instruction and a guest speaker.
The most recent meeting was June 10, and group members discussed natural plants honey bees like to use to collect pollen.
Mr. Talley, the host of the class, said cotton is a good source of pollen for the bees, as is goldenrod and sweet clover.
The organization is open to any person who currently maintains bees or has an interest in beekeeping.
More information can be found online at crystalcoastkeeper.wixsite.com/crystalcoastbees.