As the weather cooled this past weekend, Kathy Taylor’s bees were nowhere in sight; sheltering themselves within their manmade, wooden hives, the bees had calmed again after an unseasonably warm winter left them stirring.
This time of year, the queen bee lays her eggs and the worker and drone bees that surround her focus on keeping themselves, and more importantly their leader, alive. A Marxist society, the worker bees happily labor for the benefit of the queen. Without her, they would transform into swarms of anarchists.
This winter has been particularly trying for the insect, however, which usually cluster during the coldest months of the year. The mild temperatures have caused the bees to stir and eat up some of the honey they have stored.
“This is a bad thing for the bees,” said Taylor, president of the Haywood County Beekeepers Association. The association is a local chapter of the state beekeepers association.
As the stores dry up, the bees will die from hunger unless the beekeeper gives them sugar water or other sustenance.
And, if the plants bloom too early, they will not bloom later in the year for the bees, which look for buds to break open as they start a new season of honey making.
Production usually begins in the early spring, with the budding of plants and the rising of the sun. The sooner bees feel the warmth, the sooner they will begin that day’s work so beehives should face the sunrise.
“So if the sun rises in the east — and I reckon it still does — you want it to face east,” Taylor said.
People should also be considerate of their neighbors when they are looking for somewhere to settle their bees because the insect knows no bounds when it comes to searching for quality pollen.
“You can’t say that I live at 195, and you can’t leave here,” Taylor said.
While bees will travel about 100 yards in an adequately pollinated area, they can travel up to three miles hunting for their favorite plants or water — which is key, she said.
If the neighbor has a pool, make sure to keep a sufficient amount of water nearby the hive to prevent the bees from surrounding the pool. Along with pollen, a water source is critical to honey production.
Bee farmers should also strap down their hives somehow or fence them in to prevent predators from attacking them. This year, Taylor said she has seen more animals than usual daring to romp around homes forging for food, which for many could include her bees and their honey store.
“Think about it,” she said. “What did Winnie-the-Pooh love?”
The beekeeper must not be greedy and take all the honey either as it keeps honeybee alive during the winter.
“If we extract too much, then we take away from the bees,” Taylor said.
A swarm of combs
Standing just more than five feet tall, Taylor is the type of person who greets everyone, even complete strangers, with the phrase “Hello, precious.”
Her naturally nurturing personality has become quite handy during the past few years as she cares for and expands her beekeeping operations — which can be an arduous task.
Taylor backed into beekeeping after her husband retired in 2006.
“He said, ‘What are we going to do?’ and I said, ‘Let’s start an orchard,’” she said.
As she began, Taylor, owner of KT’s Orchard & Apiary Barn in Canton, saw the need to nurture bees alongside her fruit trees and bushes, but she didn’t know where to start. At the time, Haywood County did not offer beginner beekeeping classes so she traveled to Hendersonville.
Taylor began beekeeping in 2007 with two hives, which during the years expanded to 21 colonies housed at various locations near her Pigeon Ford Road home in Canton, in Beaver Dam, and in Buncombe and Jackson counties.
Several years later, in early 2010, Taylor helped charter the more than 75-member Haywood County Beekeepers Association.
The group holds school events, participates in local festivals and teaches beginner classes for burgeoning beekeepers.
Taylor suggested that any new or wannabe beekeepers take a beginning beekeeping course. The class teaches the basics of beekeeping and allows people to get acclimated to the bees and overcome any fears they might have.
“The bees know if you’re not calm,” she said. “That’s why beginner bee school is so important.”
And, any gardener or farmer has good reason to keep bees, she said, and bees have made a resurgence alongside the buy local movement as people realize that they need pollinators to help grow other products.
“Just think of the things you would not have without bees,” she said.
Bees cross-pollinate at least 30 percent of crops, including apples, berries, cucumbers and almonds, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The bees also teach the novice or less experienced grower about their favored plants.
“Dandelions, oh my goodness gracious,” Taylor said of the bees love for that particular weed.
Start your own hives
The Haywood County Beekeepers Association will host a two-day introductory course starting this Saturday. The class will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 18 and 25 at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service building.
Topics include equipment, selecting beehive locations and getting honeybees.
The cost is $35 per person, $45 per couple and free for students under 18. The fee includes a yearlong membership with the association.
More bee buzz
The Smoky Mountain Beekeepers is another local organization that brings together beekeepers and offers starter classes for novices in Swain and Jackson counties. The association will host a course in beginner beekeeping from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 14, in Bryson City. Robert Brewer, University of Georgia’s Apiculture Extension Coordinator, will lead the bee school. Brewer is a certified International Honey Judge and co-founder of the Young Harris Beekeeping Institute. Topics covered will include basic bee biology, how to get started in beekeeping, insect and disease control.
The pre-registration fee is $15 prior to April 1 and $20 thereafter or at the door. The course fee will cover the cost of lunch and reference materials.