“Swarming is primarily for colony reproduction,” Willapa River Beekeeper Paul Young explained. “Other social insects swarm, but only honeybees swarm to produce a new colony and thereby increase the number of bee colonies. . . Swarm season in our area runs from about mid-April to mid-September.”
Young continued: “It is always far better to contact someone to capture a swarm rather than to spray it with poison. Honeybees in a swarm are typically quite docile and very unlikely to sting anyone.”
The number of swarms collected this year is more than the Willapa River Beekeeping Club had last year. “But it may be due to better communication,” Young explained. “Many of our club members set out ‘swarm traps’ which are beehives or other containers baited with lemongrass oil to attract swarms. One club member has captured 22 swarms this year using swarm traps. We've also heard of numerous swarms collected by local beekeepers who are not club members.”
Honeybees are critical to the ecosystem, playing a specific role in pollination. “Approximately 80% of the seeded vegetables and fruits we consume are pollinated by honeybees. This does not take into account the pollination required to produce seed for further plantings of crops,” Young said.
“Honeybees also have a very important behavioral pattern known as ‘floral constancy’ aka ‘floral fidelity’ – for each flight from the hive, once a honeybee visits its first flower, it will only visit flowers of that same species on that entire nectar gathering trip,” Young explained. “This means that pollen dusted onto that bee is transferred only amongst flowers of the same species thereby not wasting pollen on other species where it would not be effective for pollination. Also, many local people that have had a beehive moved onto their property or onto nearby property have told me and other club members of the large boost in fruit production on their apples, etc.”
Honeybees are special because they provide humans with their excess honey. “Only honeybees store large amounts of honey, typically in excess of what they need for their own consumption. Some say honeybees are the only insect that produces a food for humans to consume – I guess that is close to correct if you don't count eating insects.”
Other than honey, honeybees also produce beeswax, for honeycomb foundation, which is used in many products, including food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. They produce royal jelly, used by bees to feed larvae and by humans as a dietary supplement. Another byproduct is propolis, a sealant made of botanical sources which can be used for medical purposes.
Once a swarm is collected, beekeepers must determine if it needs supplemental feeding. “If it is an early season and medium to large swarm – about April to mid-July – the swarm is placed in a beehive and allowed to build up in numbers on its own without supplemental feeding – they can usually store enough food, honey and pollen, to last them through winter. If the swarm is small or late season swarm – about mid-July to September – most beekeepers will provide supplemental feed – sugar syrup and pollen substitute – to allow them to build up and to keep them alive through winter,” Young explained.
“There is an old adage that goes something like: ‘a swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay, a swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon, but a swarm of bees in July isn't worth a fly’,” he continued. “This is in reference to the ability of early swarms to provide the beekeeper with some honey to harvest, but late swarms will not have time nor may they be strong enough – late swarms are often small, around 5,000 to 15,000 bees – to store enough honey for the beekeeper to harvest some so, instead, the beekeeper will have the expense of feeding them.”
As a self-sufficient species, honeybees require little upkeep, including basic hive inspection every other week during the nectar flow season. The heaviest workload comes when it’s time to harvest honey.
In the winter, honeybees should be left alone. “Build beehives, read about bees, etc. Don't open the hive except to add food if necessary,” he said. But, “a beekeeper must remain vigilant to be sure that the bees do not starve - typically a beekeeper should leave about 40 to 60 pounds of honey for the bees to use for overwintering.”
Those who want to begin beekeeping should check out the local Timberland Regional Libraries, which have a great collection on beekeeping. Attend the Willapa River Beekeeping Club meetings the third Sunday of each month at the Menlo Fire Station from 4-6 pm.