The Merry Weather Garden Club met on Thursday, October 13, 2011 at the home of Jean Biggers. Linda Latzak co hosted the meeting. Guest speaker was Jim Byce whose topic was bees and beekeeping. Unfortunately an unexpected thunderstorm precluded the plans to meet at the Byce home where his hives are located, but Jim brought the basics of beekeeping to Jean’s living room!
Byce started keeping bees about 35 years ago when he moved to the country. He was not successful in his first attempts but today people in the county call Byce to remove swarming bees. Byce explained how useful bees were for gardens and pollination and many members had seen the 18 wheel transports moving bees to areas where pollination was needed.
Byce began by explaining the types of bees: the queen, drones, and workers. The drones sole purpose is to mate with the queen and then they are shoved out of the hive by the worker bees. The queen’s only job is to lay eggs. The workers bring the nectar to the hive, make the honey, and make sure the queen is maintained at a perfect temperature-92 degrees. To do this they fan to circulate air or cuddle and group around her.
The workers travel to hundreds of blooms to collect nectar and bring it to the hive in their “honey pouch.” Other workers chew the nectar and break down the sugar with their enzymes and produce a simple bacteria resistant sugar mixture which they put in the honeycombs, plug with wax, and keep until they need to eat it.
Queens are larger and more elongated than regular bees and may be spotted in the hive. Byce has removed older queens which are not productive and replaced them with a new queen. The new queen comes in a small cage that is plugged with bee candy. The workers chew through to get to the new queen and the hours this takes allows the new queen to spread her distinct pheromone on to the workers so they will accept her. The distinct pheromone of a hive is what keeps the bees knowing who is a stranger or invader.
Club members asked about killer bees which are an African strain that was crossed with a European variety in the hopes of cross breeding to make better bees. African bees are hard workers at pollination and making honey but also aggressive. They have migrated into Georgia now.
Byce answered questions about yellow jackets that can re-sting and chase you down whereas a honey bee stings once and the stinger comes out. Beekeepers wear white as it is a calming color for bees. Long sleeves, gloves, head protection are also important. The cost of three pounds of bees and queen is about $75, the hive and frames, $125. The costs get higher if you buy a honey extractor which spins the frames to release the honey and the heated knife to cut the wax plug from the combs.
Byce showed the frames of a hive and the brood chamber. He recommends a 2:1 ratio of sugar water to help a new hive build and boost production. He demonstrated using a smoker to fool the bees into thinking there is a fire and they go into the hive to protect it. Byce reads extensively about bees and explained well how bees think and operate. The “secret life” of bees made for a fascinating program.