Country World Archives 2001-2008


Spring honey-making under way in Texas

By KRISTY HEMMINGSEN | East Texas Edition

John Talbert (striped shirt) discusses various spring-time chores for beekeepers during a recent educational series in Collin County. The series saw many interested individuals, in a wide range of age.
-Staff photo by Hemmingsen

May 2, 2002 -- The hum of honeybees in the air means another Texas spring has arrived. And for East Texas beekeepers, it's a welcomed sound.

Texas has 240 full-time commercial beekeepers, family farmers who manage the bulk of the state's 105,000 bee colonies and $4.7 million honey crop, according to Texas Department of Agriculture statistics.

An additional 1,500 part-timers and 15,000 hobbyists contribute to the honey flow. Altogether, the colonies manufacture enough honey to make Texas the country's seventh-leading producer.

For beekeepers, the steps to making honey begin during winter when a bee colony's population drops from about 60,000 to about 10,000 bees. Honeybees spend the winter lazing inside the hive eating honey.

It's at this time, according to John Talbert, president of the Collin County Beekeepers Association, that beekeepers take advantage of this "slow-time" and prepare for the spring and summer months by getting their supplies and equipment ready.

Talbert, who is also director-at-large for the Texas Beekeepers Association and chairman of it's marketing committee, said that over the past winter months, beekeepers have been checking on the condition of the hives and looking to see if the bees have an adequate food supply.

"Bees may have enough honey to feed on, but we substitute corn syrup or sugar water to stimulate the queen's egg production and build hive population," said Talbert. "This starts the mentality of the bee hive that -- there's a 'honey flow' and bees are needed."

Talbert extracts the hive's queen.
-Staff photo by Hemmingsen

(Queens reduce egg laying in the fall and eventually stop but then begin laying eggs again in January. Bees then feed and nurse the young brood that will maintain the colony into the spring and prepare the hive for the mass build-up that comes in the spring. Honey flow usually lasts for a six-week period.)

But what are the "chores" for bees and beekeepers this time of year? A seasonal demonstration was part of a learning event held recently in Collin County.

Right now, according to Talbert, beekeepers are getting their bees out in the bee yards.

He said the majority of Texas commercial beekeepers load their hives on trucks and take them close to high-nectar areas. When one source dries up, the beekeepers pack up and move to another.

As flowers continue to bloom, honeybees may visit more than 2 million flowers during a 55,000-mile journey just to gather enough nectar for one pound of honey

Hives are usually two-foot-long wooden boxes, each with a queen, workers and drones.

Only worker bees are equipped to collect nectar or pollen, yet they only live a short period of time. Once they emerge from the cell, worker bees usually only live around 40 days.

During then, they engage in a number of tasks, and the last 20 days or so, they gather nectar, water, propolis, and pollen depending on the colony's needs.

Talbert said pollen from flowers such as White Dutch and the Madrid Clover is known to make some of the sweetest honey.

Honeybees are essential to the economy, being the chief pollinating agents of flowering plants.

But in terms of crop quantity and quality in Texas, the value of pollination comes to around $587 million, according to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs.

From the production of fruit crops, such as apples, grapes, and strawberries to seed crops such as clovers, onions and celery, all these things and more are dependent upon a sufficient population of bees.

Renting bees is common, especially by farmers requiring crop pollination. About one-third of the human diet comes from pollinated crops, and honeybees are among the most successful pollinators.