Keeper seeks wild match for his farm bees

Published 3:53 pm Thursday, April 16, 2009

To keep his apiaries of 25 to 30 hives going, Spangler says he would like to harvest wild bees ‐ and to breed their queens&squo; genetics into his existing hives.

He likes the challenge of raising his own queen bees. He takes the eggs of a wild queen bee, safely locked into the &dquo;capped brood&dquo; of an unhatched honeycomb, and moves these eggs into an existing hive without a queen. The new queen nature forms for that hive will have the wild bees&squo; genetics.

&dquo;I just like the challenge of breeding new queens,&dquo; he says. &dquo;I want to reproduce high production, &squo;friendly&squo; bees.

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&dquo;Beekeeping is just a hobby that pays for itself,&dquo; Spangler says.

It is high swarm season for the next two months, and Spangler would like any area residents who notice a swarm to call him at 864-457-2870.

Swarms look like long, dark masses of bees just hanging from a branch of a tree.

Bees swarm when their hive is over-crowded and nature is telling them to move to a new home. There can be as many as 70,000 bees in a typical hive, Spangler says.

If he locates a swarm, Spangler will place an unoccupied farm hive, a &squo;nuc,&squo; nearby and harvest that swarm for a new cultivated hive.

Even if you don&squo;t see a swarm, but notice bees coming and going from a crook in one of your trees, Spangler says he can come out to the property and place a &squo;nuc&squo; hive in the vicinity of the bee tree, wherever the property owner will allow it.

A &squo;nuc&squo; hive, or half a hive, will have an old honey comb in it which will draw the scout bees. The scouts will go back to the tree hive and report finding a suitable new home.

Once bees begin making a home in the &squo;nuc,&squo; Spangler will cap the &squo;nuc&squo; one night when all its residents are inside, resting, and move them to a new hive box.

&dquo;There is a chance,&dquo; Spangler says, to form a new hive in this way, though it takes all summer to build a new hive.

If a fallen tree is home to a beehive, Spangler says he can cap the hive, cut out the tree section containing the hive to move the entire colony. But he says he would not take down a live tree for the hive inside. A tree is worth more than a bee hive, he says.

Most beekeepers, if they want to add hives to their apiary, will order a &dquo;three-pound starter pack&dquo; of bees. Bee packs are delivered through the regular mail.

However, those farm bred bees most often have been medicated ‐ their hives fumigated for maladies like hide beetle, foul brew and Varroa mite. The hives build up resistance to the medications.

Spangler says he believes these chemical treatments are weakening the bees, perhaps damaging their homing capabilities, leading to the demise of their hives.

Research into the demise of Western honey bees has been accelerating since 2006, when a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of bee colonies was noticed.

The phenomenon, given the name &dquo;colony collapse disorder,&dquo; (CCD) is significant because many agricultural crops worldwide are pollinated by bees.

In fact, some say the honey bee is the insect that is most important for the human food chain, as the pollinator of hundreds of types of food crops, nuts, flowers, vegetables and fruits.

In 2008, a survey taken the U.S. Department of Agriculture and apiary inspectors showed that 36 percent of America&squo;s 2.4 million farm hives were lost to CCD, an increase of 40 percent over the losses of 2006.

Scientists are working on several theories for the losses, including the use of pesticides on the bees themselves and on the crops they pollinate. Other theories being explored are the outbreak of the Israel acute paralysis virus, malnutrition due to genetically altered crops and beekeepers&squo; winter &dquo;junk food&dquo; feeding, long distance transportation of beehives, pathogens, immunodeficiencies, environmental stresses, mites and fungus. Global warming is also mentioned, as is electromagnetic radiation from cellular phone towers.

As of late 2007, there was no consensus among researchers.

Even before all the research began, however, Spangler says he was uncomfortable with the use of chemicals in the hive.

&dquo;Let&squo;s face it,&dquo; he says, &dquo;if it&squo;s on the hive, it&squo;s in the honey.&dquo;

He started using other methods to keep his hives healthy about 11 years ago.

For one, he installed screened bottoms for his hives, rather than solid wood. The mites, which have no wings, fall out the bottom as they jump about, allowing his hives to maintain a level of mite infestation that allows the bees to survive without mite-killing chemical treatments.

Spangler says his bees forage within a two-mile radius of each hive. He keeps some of his hives on his 20 acre property off South Blackstock Road in Landrum, and others he keeps on other property off North Blackstock.

He would like everyone to think more about keeping healthy bees in their neighborhoods.

&dquo;Farmers and gardeners should be concerned when they spray their crops,&dquo; Spangler says. If they spray pesticides in the morning, when the flowers are at their peak producing nectar to attract bees, they may be killing bees.

&dquo;You should spray in the late evening,&dquo; he says, &dquo;when all my bees are home, resting. The poison then dissipates overnight.&dquo;

Better yet, Spangler says, think of alternatives, such as&bsp; using the soapy after dinner dishwater on your flowers to kill insects, rather then chemicals, just like your grandmother did.