Standing alongside thousands of buzzing bees might be more enjoyable than some people believe.
Jennifer Ford and Keith Freeman conducted their first beehive inspection Friday morning, July 18, at Farnsworth Middle School’s Organic Garden. The couple has kept beehives at their home since 2008 and started maintaining one at the garden this summer. Another beekeeper had two hives at the site, but recently left the area.
Ford jumped at the opportunity to continue the sweet tradition at the garden.
“There have been bees here for 17 years, and lots of times people didn’t even know they were here,” Ford said. “I thought it would be neat to kind of get more of a school and community involvement going on.”
Ford said she is trying to involve students and the community in the activity of keeping bees, along with passing along information and advice for those looking to start the hobby. The Guilderland Central School District sent out a mass email message inviting anyone interested to attend the inspection.
“This is a nice location,” she said. “You’ve got pollination here for the garden, and I like that its here where people can easily see what is going on with it.”
Ford’s interest in bees was spurred somewhat indirectly through her mother making beeswax candles.
“I said to my husband one day it would be cool to have a couple hives and get some of our own beeswax,” Ford said. “It kind of grew from two hives to 16 now.”
Ford and her husband plan to inspect the hive at least once bi-weekly. A hive does not really need to be checked on more than a weekly basis, with excessive inspections actually reducing the amount of honey produced. The hive is doing well enough that another medium sized cabinet was added.
A key thing they look for is to see if the queen is alive and healthy because changing out the queen is sometimes the quickest remedy for a problem.
“We basically look for if there are lots of bees, lots of eggs and is there honey,” she said. “Lots of times if there’s a problem, the problem (is) with the queen. … You can buy a new queen and put her in, and that tends to fix a lot of the problems.”
Pests can be controlled with natural oils if they become problematic, she said, which allows for the garden to remain organic.
Entrance reducers need to be placed on the hive before winter to keep out mice from the warm, sweet sanctuary. Bees huddle up in a ball, with the queen in the middle, eat the honey and vibrate to produce heat during the winter. Ford said the hive stays around 95 degrees.
“They don’t hibernate,” she said. “You will see them flying on a warm day in the winter.”
A couple of kids turned out and kept their distance from the hive. The fence around the garden provides a nice suggested buffer for people not wanting to get too close.
Caren Patzarian, of New Scotland, donned a beekeeper’s hat and got up close with the insects. After seeing the inspection, which she never saw before, she is looking to keep her own honeybee hive.
“I’ve been interested in keeping bees and concerned about what is happening with them diminishing,” Patzarian said. “This kind of got my interest going, and I love honey. Honey is really good for you.”
Keith Freeman uses a smoker to calm the bees before inspecting the hive. The smoke triggers a feeding response in the bees, which is a response over the possibility of abandoning the hive due to a fire. The smoke also masks any alarm pheromones guard bees, or a bee getting crushed, might release.
Freeman said each hive has its own personality, with the garden’s hive of about 40,000 to 50,000 bees being calm.
“It wasn’t as scary as I think you would expect it to be,” said Patzarian.
Anyone interested in attending future inspections can email Jennifer Ford at [email protected] for information on dates and times.