Queen of the World: Part I
The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is not native to the Western hemisphere. Stingless bees are native and do produce small amounts of honey. They also pollinate, however are not prolific pollinators like the honeybee. In 1622, the Apis mellifera were shipped into Virginia from England. From that point on they were distributed to many other states.
Early beekeepers used to kill their bees when they harvested their honey. In 1852, a man named L.L. Langstroth designed the bee hive that we still use today. He is considered the “father of modern beekeeping”. There doesn’t seem to be a reason to change the standard bee box that all serious beekeepers use…it works.
In the mid 1800’s a market developed for purchasing queen bees. After all, it is the queen bee of the colony that determines what type of genetics your bees will have. She can be a productive mating machine or… not so productive. It is a learning curve for the new beekeeper to determine when to re-queen a bee hive. Queen bees can be bought from various companies and are sent through the mail.
They’ve been sending queen bees through the mail since 1886. You can order a gentle blond (Cordovan) queen, a Hawaiian queen, a Georgia Purvis brothers queen, Russian queens bred to Carniolan “yugo” drones in California and many, many more. I always find out where my local beekeeping association are getting their queens. I’ve got a Purvis queen, two Hawaiian queens, and a wild queen in my boxes right now. The breeding of bees is a broad topic, but there is no question that a quality-bred queen is the most desirable.
The dimensions of bee hives and frames are the same throughout the world. The standard 10-frame box is used for brood (the bottom box where they keep their babies and food). The box that is stacked on top of the main brood chamber is called a “super”. The super holds the honey that we harvest from the bees. There is a wire mesh piece that goes between the bottom brood box and the super to keep the queen from laying eggs in the super. It is appropriately named a “queen excluder”.
It’s important to always leave the bees enough honey for them to sustain themselves and not take it all from them. I’ve seen brood boxes with eight supers stacked on top of them. That ‘s a lot of honey.
A swarm of bees will move themselves into any container they find suitable as a home. Bird houses are their favorite. A beekeeper can’t tend the bees when they’re in a bird house though (such as re-queening the colony). When bees become wild (feral), they eventually become Africanized in Florida. When a beekeeper re-queens a colony, it prevents the Africanization of the colony and keeps them gentle. Africanized bees are spreading through several states.
Keith Councell (president of our local bee association) did a radio broadcast this week that is worth a listen. It’s very interesting and the discussion is easy to follow. He discusses what you need to do to set up and maintain your own beehive in your own backyard in Southwest Florida. Keith said the bees will not bother your neighbors. To listen to his broadcast on WGCU National Public Radio, click here.
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