Rivercities Garden Club

Meeting 2/5/2012

Program - Bees & Honey

 beeHoney is generally a local product.  Hummer's now have about 500 colonies in Arkansas.  There are additional colonies in Louisiana and Texas. 

The local pollen gets into the honey which alters its' quality and taste.  Louisiana honey much better than clover honey  and has a unique taste.  It is sweeter, darker and has more flavor than does clover honey which is produced in the Northwest.  There are about 350 types of honey which are characteristic of the flower they came from.  Tallow honey is mild and flavorful;   Willow honey a bit of an aspirin taste.   

What's been happening to the bees?

As a result of the global economy new pests  began to arrive in 1990's .  In the past three or four years bee farmers would go to a field and the bees seemed to be ok then return a month later half the colonies would have died.

The USDA had determined that as a result of pest importation the bees are fighting two mites, a tracheal mite and the varroa mite from Asia.  These severely weaken the bees.  These mites have killed millions of bees and have decimated wild honeybee populations as well.   Genetic studies have shown that the bee colony collapse is mostly due to viral disease because the mites weaken the bee's immune system.   These diseases have seriously compromised the honey industry.   Fortunately commercial bee keepers repopulate the natural environment as some colonies escape.

This past year has been much better than the previous; the bees need water and so do  the plants to continue flowering.  We are hoping for a much better year this year than last and more rain will increase flower blooming.

Can you do bee keeping  yourself?

You can't have bees in Bossier City but then you can't plant gardens with rows either.  There are no such restrictions in Shreveport.

What is a year like for a bee?

In February the bees start begin to wake up.  They have spent the winter as a ball in the hive.  Warmer bees move to surface and cold bees move to the center.    They live off the honey they collected the previous summer.  Unfortunately this year we had to feed them with corn syrup or cane sugar.   

In February the hardwood trees begin to bloom and provide a source of  pollen.   By mid-month there should be adequate food for the colony.  The colony has a single queen bee.  Worker bees born in October are still alive.  The queen lays 1500 eggs per day and the colony grows larger.   The new bees become adults in 21 days.   If there is a hard freeze after warming period the weather can  seriously damage the colony .  If this happens there is a need to cover them and give them plenty of food.  If there is insufficient  food  the bees become lethargic don't move  and there is a critical need to feed them sufficiently.   It can take 3 gallons of sugar water to get them going.

In March they bring in more nectar and the colony begins to run out of room.  Then will swarm.  The old queen leaves with the colony a few days before the new queen emerges.  All of the larvae are female and have the potential to become a queen.     It is possible to order a queen through the mail. However the remaining colony can grows a new queen.

The drones single job is to fertilize the queen.  Over the next 6 days it takes about 35 drones to mate with the queen. This mating will carry her through the rest of her life.

In April  the willow trees along the river will begin to bloom.   These trees will become the main source of food.   During this period the colony grows and produces about   150 pounds of honey per colony.    This colony growth continues through mid June when the honey production begins to drop off.

June is the time to extract honey when the colony full strength.

During July and August the bees begin to eat what they had saved.

During late August and September  golden rod blooms.  This honey  smells like wet dog.   The  fall honey  is definitely for the bees.  Other crops include soy bean and cotton September may provide an opportunity for a second honey extraction.  However plenty of honey should be left for the bees as they need a lot of honey for the winter.   Some bee farmers take all of the honey and replace it with syrup but being greedy in this fashion leads to less healthy colonies.

October - get ready for winter.  Provide a pail of syrup with medicine and put them to bed till January.

Bee Facts.

Louisiana is one top 10 honey production states in United States.

Bees are taken out to California to fertilize them.  Almond crop depends completely on bees.     

80% of all crops depend on bees.

Bee keeping takes a lot of work.

Start out with foundation and frames.  One can't speed up the process.

Starting beekeeping

LSU extension service.  Get the book Beginning with bees.  The book lays out subject so simply.  The Arklatex bee keepers club  meets monthly, the 2nd Tuesday of the month , at St. Judas Church.

What to do with a bee swarm?

You can call Billy Hummer if you want to catch a swarm.  He has a facebook page to contact him with information about a swarm. . Call Hummer & Sons honey they can get someone to salvage the bee colony.  One can also use a shop vac to gather up a swarm and this won't kill them.

Africanized bees. 

These bees arrived in Louisiana in 2001 and now they are half way across the state.  But with so many domesticated bees they have a competitive disadvantage.  They are mostly moving toward the west.  If you meet them get into a vehicle and close the vents drive away.  The bees will go under the water.  Get away from them.  One sting won't kill but 7 stings per pound of weight can be close to lethal. 

How to provide a healthy bee environment?

Bees need water very much.     Even a puddle can be enough.  Consider how reliable is the source of water.    Make a bee bath by filling a shallow container with twigs for the bees to land on.  Keep the water fresh and convenient for the bees.  The bees can be fed by inverting a bucket like humming bird feeders.    Avoid using herbicides and pesticides in your garden.  Insects like ladybugs and spiders  will keep the pest population in check.  

 Native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers.    Plant at least three different types of flowers to ensure blooms through as many seasons as possible, thus providing bees with a constant source of food .  Snowdrops, the buttercup-like winter aconite, crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths all supply much-needed fresh pollen and nectar in the early spring.  Culinary herbs provide of nectar. The mint family, which includes sage, thyme, marjoram and basil.  Include rosemary and lavender.  For the summer provide bee balm, cosmos, Echinacea, snapdragons foxglove, and hosta   In the fall, zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel and goldenrod and sea balm provide food and color.

Honey suckle attracts bumble bees rather than honey bees. Jasmine in large amounts can be deadly for honey bees as this source affects the brooding of young which can't mature properly.

Billy HummerThe Speaker - Billy Hummer

Billy Hummer's fascination with bees started early.  In the 5th grade he became involved with a 4H bee keeping project.   Billy�s father who was a navigator retired from the air force took over the project in 1986.  The first colonies of  bees were ordered from Sears&rRobucks.  The  first colony arrived dead because the mailman put them in a hot summer closed mailbox.

And from there, the project developed real commercial application.  Later when Billy graduated from LSU he too again worked with bees.    Now his company produces Hummer & Sons' Honey.


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