BEE-WARE OF YOUR BEE-HAVE-IOR

March 3, 2016: This is about honeybees in the landscape. Before I begin though, I'd like to apologize for the title. It's corny. I have noticed that with advancing years, I and many other fellow senior peers seem to be getting cornier. I have wondered why this is. I have trolled through the Internet hoping to find some scholarly research, something like "Observational Studies of Humor Change in Humans and Other Primates as a Function of Age", but to no avail.

So I ponder. Is it because time dulls the razor edge of our rapier wit? As faculties diminish, do we forget the more complex nuances and timing of humor? Do we revert to childhood again? Will I be calling up strangers and asking them if their refrigerator is running? (Then you'd better catch it! Yuk, yuk) Or is it because we don't give a damn anymore? After years of having to be cool and repressing our inner corn, do we decide to drop the facade? Perhaps beneath the banal veneer of a corny joke lies a greater truth that only with time and wisdom can be seen. . . . . But, I digress. Have you ever noticed that some seniors will start talking about something and then ramble off onto a whole different topic? I have pondered on this and . . . . I'll save that for another day.

I keep bees. It is a delightful hobby and a wonderful asset in the landscape. I would like to suggest bees as a planned component of your landscape - part of the landscape design. We all know that bees are Octagonal WarreOctagonal Warrepollinators (many solitary bees as well as honeybees) and if you have fruit trees or a vegetable garden, they can dramatically increase your bounty. Colorfully painted or artistically built hives (such as Langstroth hives with gabled copper roofs or Warre hives) can be hardscape features that can be strong focal points or accents in the landscape design. The sounds and the motion that come from a healthy hive add further interest to a landscape. And then there's the honey!

Beekeepers are very sensitive to stress that they "keep" bees, they don't "have" bees. The difference Decorated LangstrothDecorated Langstrothbeing that in beekeeping you actively manage a hive versus simply having a hive that does its own thing without your meddling. Though the latter seems more sustainable, that's not the case. Honeybees don't fare well in our clime without some management. If you're going to be a bee-haver, I'd suggest being a beehivebox-haver. Have the colorful bee-utiful (sorry) hive boxes without the bees. You might get lucky and have a swarm take residence.

if you decide you'd like to keep bees, here's a few bullet points you ought to know.

- Beekeeping isn't cheap. The woodware and frames for a Langstroth hive (the most common type of hive) will set you back $100 - $150/hive and that's not counting the bees (another $100-$160) or the protection wear and starting equipment (~$150-$200).

- Bees don't last without your meddling. There would be some that would disagree but they would be in a very small minority. For honeybees to get through our long damp winters, you have to control for mites and other diseases. You also have to feed them (sugar syrup) from time to time - like right now when the temperature is warming but there's not a lot of flower nectar out. Nationwide annual colony loss due to starvation and winter has run as high as 45% and that's amongst commercial and hobby beekeepers. Amongst bee-havers? Probably a lot more.

- Bees swarm. A bee colony is a superorganism - something that we regard as an individual that is in fact Old Guy with SwarmOld Guy with Swarmmade up of thousands of individuals - as many as 60,000 in a healthy hive. It's natural reproduction is to increase in size to the point that it splits into two colonies. The old queen and half or more of the old colony comes exploding out of the hive and flies off to a new location leaving behind a weaker and more diminished colony. Beekeepers try to control swarming by adding more living space to the hive or other techniques.

- Bees sting. Unless you're allergic to bee stings (~.2% are), it is of my opinion that the fear of being stung is greater than the actual sting. If you have bees though, expect to be stung sometime. I average about 4-5 stings/year. Some beekeepers less. Accidently bump a hive over or drop a frame and you can expect more. If you keep bees in urban/suburban areas, it'll be your neighbors fear of bee stings that you should fear more. Proper placement of hives to lessen neighbor/bee interaction and the occasional peace offering of a jar of honey can be helpful.

- Bees are complicated. There is a lot to know about keeping bees. The best way you can learn about keeping bees is to keep them. Fortunately there is lots of educational support for new and old beekeepers. Joining a local beekeeper's club and participating in their springtime bee school is a great way to get that education started.

I hope I've encouraged you to welcome bees into your landscape. If you'd like the much easier route of Mason Bee CondoMason Bee Condohaving bees, I would like to suggest solitary bees, like the Mason bee. They don't form colonies but live in their own individual "tubes" that can be combined into very nice and artistic Mason bee apartment complexes. You won't get honey, but they pretty well take care of themselves and it is of the rarest occurrence that one ever gets stung by Mason bees.

I hope I haven't dissuaded either from keeping bees. I have never had a more pleasurable, satisfying, nor challenging hobby. It's a lifetime hobby and one I plan continue until I depart for that great Bee-yond. (sorry)

Hey, have you got Prince Albert in a can?

F & P