by Carl White, Bee Enthusiast, and Ron Nelson, BeeKeeper, Master Gardeners
The soft buzz around the flowers, the constant flow of bees from the hive and one knows honey is in the making. However, the future of bees is in question at present, as the decline of hives and bees is a real problem. The problem seems to be CCD, or colony collapse disorder, in which colonies of bees are dying, sometimes finding only a queen and egg cells but no workers. The worldwide use of pesticides, bee viral diseases and fungi and the Varroa mite are a part of the problem.
Our fascination and benefit from bees comes from the gentle bee, normally the Italian Honey Bee, from which comes most of our honey. These bees are easy to handle, are easily worked in the hive and are not to be feared as long as they are not mishandled or mashed. Many gardeners have encountered bees working the flowers in their gardens and when working alongside, are seldom bothered. But then comes the dreaded Africanized Bee, and workers beware. Easily disturbed and of which many horror stories are written, these bees attack and are relentless. Even the trained entomologists cannot identify these from the gentle bee by sight, but only by mannerism. Interestingly, the Africanized bee hive can be converted to a gentle colony by removing their queen, and substituting a gentle bee queen and all new bees produced thereafter will be gentle. The queen is fertilized during her nuptial flight from the original hive, and thereafter will lay eggs for a period of up to two years. As the fertilized queens are generally purchased from commercial bee keepers, they will have been fertilized by gentle drones (males) from her colony and she, and her offspring, will remain gentle.
The bee swarm is problematic to the public. Swarms can appear anywhere, and cause concern when appearing on your property for fear that they will adapt to your living area, in old barns or sheds, or any area where you will enter their domain. Once established in a hive, whatever they may deem as such, their honey and new bee production begins. It is at this time that the Africanized variety become dangerous if disturbed. The gentle bee can still be handled by beekeepers, and will adapt to being moved.
An environment without bees as natural pollinators will be a flowerless landscape and a dysfunctional food system. As natural pollinators, bees are so valuable to gardeners and in agriculture to perform the function of pollinating the plants. The bee serves as a vital link in society that few recognize. For thousands of years they have done their own thing, formed a service for mankind that we seldom realize, and their demise is of great concern for us all. Treat them with respect, let them do their vital action, and enjoy their benefits for all time.
For information regarding bee activity, swarms, etc., please contact our AgriLife Extension offices in Ector County, 432-498-4071, or Midland County at 432- 686-4700, or a local commercial bee expert.