You can beelieve this ... We're not pollen your leg
by Bill Mardis Commonwealth Journal
Jim Bullock was going to his barn a couple of weeks ago when he saw what appeared to be numerous insects flying around the top of a nearby tree.
A closer look revealed a huge swarm of honeybees hanging from a limb. It was a sight not seen since he was a child.
Bullock, who lives in the Sinking Valley community of eastern Pulaski County, was excited because he is familiar with the nationwide loss of honeybees due to parasitic mites and possible pesticide poisoning.
Anyone who went barefooted as a child can recall being stung by honeybees flitting among white clover blooms. Now, honeybees for the most part have disappeared from yards.
“Come over here and take a look ... I want you to take a picture of this,” Bullock said in a telephone call to his sister, Vickie, a technical specialist II at Lake Cumberland District Health Department. She e-mailed a photograph of the swarm to the Commonwealth Journal.
Bees seeking nectar from clover to clover are nostalgic, but the insects are much more important. The demise of honeybees is a source of concern to fruit and crop growers.
“We’ve got to have them,” said Don Haney, co-owner of Haney’s Appledale Farm near Nancy. “Fruit trees must be pollinated,” he added.
Haney said he brings in beehives for about two weeks to his orchards during bloom time to make sure apple and peach tree blooms are pollinated.
“I get bees from my cousin, Ray Tucker,” Haney noted.
Tucker, a member of Lake Cumberland Beekeepers Association, is more optimistic than many apiarists.
“Around the lake is a pretty good habitat for bees,” Tucker said. “There are more wild bees around here than many people think.”
Bees are fascinating insects. Talking about the swarm in Bullock’s tree out at Sinking Valley, Tucker said the bees are awaiting a location for a permanent hive.
“It takes about a 10-gallon space (for a hive),” said Tucker. “(Bee) scouts actually walk around inside the space to measure. When scouts find the right location the swarm moves in.”
Before cane sugar became in common use, every farm had hives of bees, Tucker recalled. “If you wanted something sweet, you went to the bees.”
Tucker has about seven beehives. He said winter loss of bees for members of the Lake Cumberland Beekeepers Association is about 25 percent.
“We’re doing well,” said Randy Ison, president of Kentucky State Beekeepers Association. He said winter loss of bees statewide to parasitic mites and small hive beetle, a relatively new pest, is about 22 percent.
Loss of bees is made up in the spring by artificially splitting hives. “We buy a queen and split a hive, putting part of the bees with the new queen,” Ison explained. Also, he said a complete hive of bees and a queen can be ordered and delivered, he said. Ison has about 10 hives of bees.
Old-timers would watch this time of year for their hives to swarm. The bees would come out circling, filling the air during flight from the hive.
Often, the beekeeper would make clanging sounds or toss dirt among the circling bees to “settle” the swarm, likely on a nearby limb. He would have an empty hive ready and would shake the swarm from the limb onto the hive.
The queen would run inside the empty hive and the workers would follow, creating a new hive. This ready made accommodation would take the place of a distant destination located by the scouts.
In at least one case on record, the circling queen lit on the beekeeper’s hat. He stood perfectly still while the swarm formed on the brim. Then he walked slowly to an empty hive and shook the bees from his hat at the entrance.
Honeybees stop flying when the temperature drops below about 50 degrees. Worker bees crowd into the central area of the hive to form a "winter cluster." The bees huddle around the queen bee at the center of the cluster, shivering in order to keep the center at 81 degrees at the start of winter during the broodless period and 93 degrees when the queen resumes laying.
The colder the weather is outside, the more compact the cluster becomes. During winter, bees consume stored honey to produce body heat.
Colonies are established by groups known as "swarms," which consist of a mated queen and a large contingent of worker bees. This group moves en masse to a nest site that has been scouted by worker bees beforehand.