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BeeKeeping 2021: Another year of challenge

Len VanMarion
Certified Texas Master Gardener, TAIS Master Beekeeper

This past year was a real challenge for beekeepers. We had two named hurricanes and a named winter storm that brought historic cold, ice and freeze damage. Our homes were damaged our yards were damaged and our citrus trees were frozen. Even the plant nurseries struggled to supply plants for our gardens and yards.

The local honeybees were impacted just like us. Their homes were blown over, flooded or exposed to the elements. Many hives died, many had to find new homes in the worst time of year. Many just starved.

Flowers were fewer in number and weeks later than normal. Our spring was delayed, everything seemed to bloom or green up later than normal. Even the Chinese Tallow tree bloomed about three weeks later than usual.  It takes 1-2,000,000 flower visits for bees to produce one pound of honey. A large hive can consume more than a pound of honey a day to survive. So you can imagine what fewer flowers can mean to a hive and to a beekeeper.

There were fewer swarms than normal and most of those swarms were later in the season and smaller in size.  Beekeepers continue to struggle to keep their hive counts up, with an abnormal number of hive loses.  One survey showed Texas winter 2020-21 loss at 35-40%. We have been losing hives at an annual rate of about 45%, so winter loss at 40% is a really bad indicator for 2020 yearly loss numbers. Think about how hard it will be/would be to recover if you lost half your income for a year. This is the task beekeepers are faced with every year.

Most beekeepers try to split hives and collect swarms to replace hives lost each year. This year that task is much harder, the spring was tough, a late hard winter, delaying spring, fewer flowers, late Chinese Tallow bloom. Fewer swarms, commercial queen producers were behind due to lower success rates, fickle weather and colder nights. Usually I can order queens for delivery in early April. This year queens were not readily available until May and June.

Help a local beekeeper. If you notice bees in a location where they can’t stay, in a shed, barn, house wall, or other location give a beekeeper an opportunity to remove them. We can usually remove the bees and salvage a viable hive.

Never, never, never spray them with wasp, hornet or other insecticides. Give a beekeeper a chance to save them.

How do I find a local beekeeper? Well, you can look on the internet for the Texas Apiary Inspection Service to get a list of registered Texas beekeepers. You can check with the Texas Beekeepers Association for members. You can check on Real Texas Honey or call your local Agriculture Agent.

DON’T be Duped buy “Real Texas Honey” from a Real Texas Beekeeper.

If you or your civic group needs a speaker give me a call.

Len VanMarion is TAIS Master Beekeeper, Texas Master Gardener. He can be reached at 409-728-0344