Bee kind

Unlikely community leads to thriving societies

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Admit it.

At one point in time or another you’ve ducked, dodged, swatted and maybe even squished a bee to keep from getting stung. We’ve all been there. It’s a common occurrence during the spring and summer months as bees work to do their job of gathering nectar and building honeycombs to provide us with what has been called one of nature’s most perfect foods – honey.

But, as it turns out, a dissolving population may be more painful to us than a pesky sting sooner than later.

According to a 2017 study done by Auburn University’s Bee Lab, honey bees are disappearing all over the world at alarming rates. The nation’s beekeepers lost 40 percent of their managed honeybee colonies between April 1, 2017 and March 31 of this year, an increase of almost seven percentage points from the previous year’s total loss rate.

“We don’t have a solid explanation of why that rate continues to climb, but it could be that beekeepers are being realistic about potentially higher losses,” said Geoffrey Williams, an assistant professor of insect pollination and agriculture at Auburn University.

The study noted that greater colony mortality came during the 2017-2018 winter months and pushed the overall loss rate higher to a 30.7 percent rate loss from October to April. That’s up significantly from 2016-2017.

Honey bees are disappearing all over the world at alarming rates

“Winter is a critical period for honey bee colonies, as production of new bees slows or stops all together,” Williams said. “There can also be a lack of food.”

For Cullman County beekeeper Mellanie Byrd, beekeeping can be very labor intensive at times, especially when just starting out.

“It’s constant education,” Byrd said. “You’ve got to study up on what breed of honey bees thrive in your area, learn about diseases and treatments, what to do if there is a drought and how to feed them. The more experience under your belt, the more comfortable you are in your knowledge and the easier it gets.”

Byrd noted that the most work comes when getting a new package of bees. Hives have to be opened at least once a week to make sure they are making a honeycomb for the queen to lay eggs in and to store pollen and food.

“You have to keep plenty of sugar water on the hive during this process to make sure the bees have enough food for their bodies to produce the wax for the comb,” Byrd said. “You also have to make sure the queen is laying eggs, because if not, the hive will quickly die.”

Byrd took a leap of faith and got into beekeeping roughly two years ago after wanting bees for some time.

“I’ve always wanted to have bees,” she said. “My parents had a farm in Blount County that was next to a farm that had acres and acres of corn planted. I just thought having bees would be a great way to help that farmer out and to get yummy honey in the process.”

One thing is for sure, though.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Byrd laughed. “You’ll get stung; it’s just a fact. The longer you keep bees, the more you learn what not to do to keep them from stinging, but sometimes they just don’t want you messing with them.”

Mellanie Byrd, of Cullman, Alabama, has been beekeeping for two years. She said learning to care for the bees is “constant education.” [CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS]

Anyone interested in beekeeping is encouraged to visit Auburn’s Beekeeping Facebook page, as well as the Alabama Beekeepers Association.


Where to buy local honey:

If you’re looking for local honey, there are more options than ever before. There’s bound to be someone nearby to sell you a jar. Here are just a few from around the area. Not one year you? No worries — there’s always the local farmer’s market.

  • Oak & Lace
    802 S Main St
    Columbia, TN 38401
  • J Calvert Farms
    30 County Road 260
    Cullman, AL 35057
  • Gold Vine Farms
    3571 County Road 1545
    Vinemont, AL 35179
  • Werner’s Trading Company
    1115 4th Street SW
    Cullman, AL 35055
  • Jack O’ Lantern Farms
    115 E. Mobile St.
    Florence, AL 35630
  • Bluewater Creek Farm
    2530 County Road 69
    Killen, AL 35645
  • K.C.’s Bees
    2850 County Road 103
    Killen, AL 35645

Did you know?

  • Honey does not have an expiration date and will never go bad? Crystallization is often mistaken for honey going bad; however, this is not the case. It’s part of the natural process of honey.
  • Honey is a natural antibiotic. It contains 18 amino acids and many vitamins and minerals. Raw local honey is widely used to treat sore throats, sun burns, dry skin, acne, skin infections, and to calm a cough.