FINDLEY LAKE – Beekeeping is not a hobby for the faint of heart.
Those who attended the backyard beekeeping presentation by Findley Lake resident Terry Phelps recently learned a lot about honey bees and what their rearing involves. The program was sponsored by Community Connections in Findley Lake and took place in the Communi-Tea Room of the Community Center on North Road.
“I am only an amateur beekeeper, I am not an expert” said Phelps. “It is not a good hobby if you are shy or have an allergy to insects.”
People sometimes think beekeeping is just setting up a beehive and letting the bees do all the work, Phelps said. But the opposite is true.
“Once I got started, I started to realize how long and expensive it was” he said.
One of the biggest challenges with backyard beekeeping is that entire hives can be wiped out, Phelps said. For example, he said, a few years ago he lost six of his seven beehives because the winter was so bad.
“To stay in business you have to go out and buy bees or you have to catch a swarm” he said. “I do this as a hobby. I lose money every year.
People have been harvesting honey for thousands of years, Phelps said. An 8,000-year-old cave painting in Spain depicts the collection of honey. In addition, honey that has been properly collected and stored will last for thousands of years, he said. He noted that the honey found in King Tut’s tomb was 3,000 years old and considered to be the oldest until a 5,000-year-old jar of honey was found in the Republic of Georgia.
Honey has many uses beyond being a sweetener, Phelps said. For centuries it has been used during wars to heal wounds due to its antibacterial properties. Its antioxidant qualities have also made it useful in preventing cancer, he said.
Honey is also used to reduce canker sores and other forms of herpes, as well as to reduce itching, Phelps said. It can also reduce coughing in children, he said.
A beehive is made up of three types of honey bees, said Phelps. There is the queen, whose sole duty is to control the hive by sending pheromone signals that tell other bees what work needs to be done. A queen will lay millions of eggs in her lifetime and may live for many years, he said.
Then there are the drones whose duty it is to mate with the queen. Drones don’t have a sting and can live 40 or 50 days, Phelps said. They are all males.
The workers, who are all women, make up the bulk of the hive, said Phelps. They do whatever task the queen tells them to do, such as protecting the hive, feeding the babies, or building the comb. A summer worker bee only lives a few weeks, he said. A winter worker bee will live four or five months.
The hive has many predators, from ants to bears, Phelps said. He noted that bears do not seek honey, as is commonly believed. They are in fact after the larvae.
“They want the protein” he said. “Honey is the dressing on the meat – the A-1 sauce.”
Another predator is the small beehive beetle, Phelps said. This predator turns honey into a foul material. Bees can also be attacked from the inside by mites that lodge in the bee’s trachea. The mites also often attack the larvae, he said.
Pathogens can also pose a formidable threat to the hive, said Phelps. The worst is called American foulbrood, which results from a bacterial spore that infects the larvae and then grows outward. If a hive is infected, anything in the hive should be burned, he said.