Wanted: More Beekeepers to Sustain Local Stock

By Teresa Woodard

I really don’t need another hobby.  Yes, my teenage kids are growing more independent, but I already have a full plate with gardening, chickens and pets.  So, do I really need to take on beekeeping?

After Saturday’s beekeeping workshop, I’m convinced I should finally put to use our homemade bee box that’s sitting idle in the basement and purchase my first “nuc” or starter colony of bees. I learned beekeeping not only offers sweet honey rewards and promises of increased backyard garden pollination, but more importantly contributes to the local beekeeping community’s grassroots efforts to re-build the Midwest’s honeybee gene pool that was recently wiped out by varroa mites.

Did you know?

  • Bee varieties: In the United States, there are three basic types of honeybees– Italian, Caucasian and Carniolan – and many variations of each as they adapt to local conditions.
  • Southern vs. northern bees:  Bees imported from southern states are not adapted to the Midwest and in turn are less apt to ward off troublesome mites. New beekeepers using local versus imported stock are much more likely to be successful.
  • Drones: Drones, the male bees responsible for mating the queen bee, are in short supply, so a boost in drones numbers will help diversity honeybees’ gene pool.
  • Queens: Queen honeybees mate just once in their lives, within weeks of emerging as an adult. On their maiden flight from the hive, they travel to mate with drones from another colony. They mate in mid-air, at about 20 feet above the ground, with seven to 15 drones.  After mating, the drones die, and the queens return to the hive to lay eggs.  Check out this interesting queen bee mating clip from the movie More Than Honey.
  • Sex determination: A queen determines whether a particular egg is fertilized or not. Unfertilized eggs become drone honey bees, while fertilized eggs develop into female workers and queens.
  • Swarms:  At nearby Mockingbird Meadows, this honey and herb farm takes another approach. It allows its “feral” hives to swarm and also collects swarms from the community as a way to increase bee population.

Perhaps, my fellow bloggers have the right idea. Michael Leach offers his backyard to a neighbor beekeeper who keeps a hive behind his shed (see Oct. 2013 blog post on beekeeping ).  And of course, Deb Knapke creates a safe, chemical-free haven for various pollinators and offers a season-long smorgasbord of their favorite flowers for foraging.

To learn more about beekeeping, check out beekeeping schools offered this spring by state beekeeping associations.

“If bees were to disappear from the globe, mankind would only have four years left to live.” — Albert Einstein

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