Understanding Honey Bees

If you are looking for a hobby that can combine science, crafts, gardening, and plenty of time out of doors, let me suggest you keep honeybees.
If you’ve been around most any news outlet, you’ve seen honeybees in the news. Most of the time we hear about the plight of this insect that we rely so heavily upon for the production of all foods requiring pollination.
It can sound scary and, according to some, apocalyptic. Understanding the reality of the natural and man-made stressors that are placed on this linchpin of agriculture can be difficult.
Of the natural stressors, there are many. Most notably are nutrition and pests. If we can think of bees as very small “livestock”, it helps many I consult get a better grasp of the difficulties encountered. Like livestock, issues such as stocking rates, genetics and pounds of honey stored are all components of production.
Like livestock in a pasture, bees need a certain level of nutrition, can’t be too crowded and must fend off other insects and diseases. Yes, the honeybee (an insect) must fend off other insects and mites as well as a host of diseases.
Pests such as hive beetles, wax moths, and a very serious problem pest called the Varroa mite can all plague honeybee colonies. Add in diseases, such as foulbrood, Nosema, and others, and you have a real understanding of honeybee challenges.
Regarding nutrition, we often ask bees to survive and even thrive in areas that are lacking. Hear me clearly, our beautiful pines and St. Augustine lawns are a veritable desert to the honeybee. But that weedy lot down the street or the creek choked with brush that winds thru town? Those “weedy” areas are often the best locations for finding nutrition for a bee.
When explaining bee nutrition, nectar is their source of carbohydrates and pollen is their source of protein. If we don’t maintain landscapes with abundant nectar and pollen, we don’t have much to offer honeybees.
Manmade stressors can include movement of hives, pesticide exposure, taking too much stored honey, and simply poor animal husbandry.
In our world where we produce such vast quantities of food, we often must take the pollinating honey bees to the crops. That mass movement of hives can add stress. Accidental pesticide exposure gets lots of attention in the press and does happen when agricultural producers try to control one insect pest and adversely affect beneficial insects.
Beekeepers that take too much honey and don’t provide extra nutrition also incur difficulties on the hive during seasonal times when they should rely on stored food. This has been the most common problem with my own hives.
With an eye towards understanding the many questions we get about honeybees and their management, the Angelina County Extension Office will be hosting a seminar Understanding Honeybees and Beekeeping on Monday, June 19 at 6:30 pm. This program will be free to the public.
Topics I’ll cover include their history, colony development, problems encountered, and our efforts to manage honeybee colonies. For more information, call 936.634.6414.


Cary Sims
Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu

Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

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