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We need to protect honeybees

COLUMN BY BILL BLAIR

This time of the year a lot of people get to see a bee swarm. Some people are afraid of the thousands of honeybees grouped together in the open, but it is a fascinating phenomenon in nature and an instinctive way for a bee colony to grow.

A swarm is a collection of honeybees and a queen that has left one hive in search of a new home. The average swarm is usually about twenty thousand bees.

Swarms occur in the spring and early summer as a way for the honeybees to begin a new hive. The current queen leaves the hive with half or more of the bees so the new queen can take over. A domestic hive will have as many as 60,000 honeybees by summer.

They may land in a tree or bush, on patio furniture, or on a house. They may be there from a few hours to two or three days while scout bees search for a suitable new home. The swarm will cluster together for protection and warmth. The queen will be in the center of the cluster.

It is fascinating to see a swarm forming but just as fascinating to see them take flight and go to their new home in the cavity of a tree or sometimes in the wall of a house, barn, or other structure. Some have been known to begin a new hive in a BBQ grill and water meter boxes. A lucky beekeeper may catch a swarm in a swarm trap.

Usually honeybees in a swarm are not aggressive. If you see a swarm on your house call a beekeeper before they find a crack in the eve of the house and become difficult and expensive to remove.

The Alabama Beekeepers Association has a list of beekeepers by county who will help you with a swarm of bees. Our Escambia County Extension Service also maintains a list of beekeepers who will assist you.

Beekeepers want to prevent swarming and have management techniques to keep honeybees at home. Sometimes hives are divided into two or more new colonies to prevent the hive from swarming. The beekeepers then must insert a queen he/she has raised or purchased or raise a new queen from a queen cell.

If the hive swarms the beekeeper loses 50 percent or more of his/her bees and the remaining bees will make less honey.

Bee swarms are not dangerous because they are only defensive in the vicinity of their nest (hive) when protecting their food or young.

Capturing a swarm is a thrilling experience and a good opportunity to start a new hive.

I like to spray the swarm with sugar water so while they are heavier and busy grooming themselves I can put most of them into a hive box.

Bees usually swarm because they have become overcrowded but may swarm because they have too many pests like the Varrora mites and the Smallhive beetles.

Some people will spray a swarm or new hive with insecticide but if the bees have any new honey in the hive the spray will also kill other bees that come to eat the left over honey.

Honeybees are endangered. We once had two feral hives per square mile in much of the United States. Now there are large portions of the country where there are no honeybees.

About one third of everything we eat is dependent on insects for cross-pollination. Farmers are having to pay beekeepers to provide honeybees for cross-pollination of their crops.

We need to protect our honeybees. I hope everyone who reads this article will help to protect honeybees and will now have a greater understanding of the swarming process.

If you want to learn more about honeybees, the Southwest Alabama Beekeepers Association meets on the third Monday of ear month at the Flomaton Pentecostal Church on Palafox Street at 6:30 p.m. Bill Blair is the president of the association and can be reached at 251-236-3774.

The Alabama Beekeepers Association has training announcements on its website.

BILL BLAIR serves as the  president of the  Southwest Alabama BeekeepersAssociation