Unsung heroes of nature

April 20, 2003|by MEG H. PARTINGTON
(Page 2 of 2)

Among the sources of pollen and nectar for bees are sunflowers, black locust, tulip poplars, basswood, paulownia, coreopsis, fall clematis and pussy willow, Freese says. Peach and apple blossoms are favorites, too, Nancy Troup adds.

Two other delicacies for bees often are among the most hated sights for meticulous lawn tenders and those with allergies: dandelions and goldenrod.

Bee business

Like humans, bees have to make a living.

Queen bees, which are fully sexually developed females, are on this earth to reproduce. Before a spiral upward "nuptial flight," they emit a pheromone, which lures male bees, called drones, to try to mate with them, Seets says.

Queens take seven to 17 mating flights in their lifetime, he says, and once fertilized they lay about 1,200 eggs per day.


Fertilized eggs produce worker bees, while unfertilized eggs create drones, Freese says.

The sole purpose of drones, which have no stinger, is to mate with queens. When not doing that, they just kick back.

"Drones kind of sit around, drink a beer and watch television," Freese says. "They're big, fat and lazy" and die within an hour of mating, he says.

Worker bees, which are female, tend to the hive and the queen, Seets says. The queen is subservient to the older worker bees in her hive, he adds.

Getting started

Novice beekeepers can purchase packages of bees that include a queen and 2 or 3 pounds of others (3 pounds equals about 9,000 bees), Freese says.

Local beekeepers also sell nucleus colonies and split their existing hives to share with others, Freese says.

While beekeeping is an involved avocation that bears the risk of an occasional sting, there are sweet rewards.

Not only are beekeepers helping to ensure future food sources, they also reap the benefits of pollination in their gardens.

Then there's the honey.

"You can't keep them from making honey," says Nancy Troup, who along with her husband is a member of the Hagerstown Valley Apian Society.

Getting into bees

Basic equipment needed for beginning beekeepers:

  • Bee suit - White coveralls with veil, or a bee jacket with veil. $50 to $80

  • Gloves - $5 to $15

  • Smoker - To calm the bees when working with them. $28 to $40

  • Hive tool - Preferably chrome-plated with a hooked end. $5 to $10

  • Hive stand - Sells for approximately $6, or you can make your own.

  • Bottom board - Approximately $11

  • Slatted rack - Protects and encourages bees to use the lower portions of the comb in the brood chamber. Approximately $11

  • Bottom full-depth brood chamber - 9 5/8-inch-deep wooden box. Approximately $13

  • Frames/foundation - Option here is to use waxed plastic frames and foundation (one piece) or pure beeswax foundation installed in wooden frames (two pieces each). $1.70 to $2 each (10 frames per box)

  • One or two medium-depth (6 5/8-inches-deep) brood chambers placed above full-depth bottom brood chambers (option is to use wax foundation/wood frames; plastic foundation/frames; or fully drawn plastic frames). Approximately $3.50 each

  • Queen excluder - To keep the queen from laying eggs in the boxes where only honey is to be stored. Approximately $6.50

  • Three to five medium-depth honey supers (6 5/8 inches) in which the bees store only honey (option is to use wax foundation/wood frames; plastic foundation/frames; or fully drawn plastic frames).

  • Inner cover - Approximately $7.50

  • Outer telescopic cover - To protect the colony from the elements, such as rain. Approximately $16

  • Latex paint to protect woodenware and cover from the elements.

  • Packaged bees (3- or 4-pound package with queen, shipped through the mail). Approximately $48

Note: Estimated prices do not include shipping costs.

- Source: John Seets, owner of Seets Apiaries in Catonsville, Md.

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