The Catoosa County News
Bees, queens and swarms
Growing up in Kentucky I was blessed with a lot of different experiences in life. One of my grandfathers had beef cattle and I would get to work them sometimes and help with baling hay. Starting at age 11 though, I started working with my other grandad in the family bee business.
We have about 1,200 beehives spread between Kentucky and Mississippi and focus mainly on honey production. Those early years I was mainly just free (nearly free anyway) manual labor but I grew to love the bees and I manage my own bees now. This spring brings an exciting time for bees and especially exciting for someone interested in getting started in bees.
I always tell people that there is a big learning curve when it comes to keeping bees. Your first year will be very disappointing if you go into it with the wrong mindset. Your first year in beekeeping will probably not yield you much honey but it will yield you a lot of skills and knowledge. A good measure of success will be 1) comb production 2) swarm prevention 3) successful overwintering. If you can accomplish those three things your first year you will have had an excellent year.
Swarming is how honeybees reproduce and it will be starting soon. In the spring when flowers bloom and pollen/nectar become available, the queen starts to lay eggs again. After these bees start to hatch the hive becomes more and more crowded. As the worker bees realize the hive is running out of space, they begin the process of raising a new queen. When the time is right, the old queen will leave the hive with half of the bees. This is a swarm and it will do its best to find a new hive location. Sometimes that’s a hole in a tree, sometimes it’s the walls of your house. With proper spring time management, swarms can be prevented but this is a skill often learned the hard way.
If you are new the best way to start beekeeping is either though buying a nucleus (nuc) colony or an established hive. Prices will vary but a nuc should run you between $150-180 roughly. This will come with five frames of comb, plenty of bees and a queen. An established hive will cost you more but will come with more bees and equipment. Finding a mentor or local club will also help as you will have many questions through the year. Likewise, you can always call me and I will be glad to help as much as I can.
If you are a homeowner and have a swarm on your property I will be glad to come get it for you. If you are interested in leaning more about bees please feel free to call or email me at the extension office.