I am seeing a lot of bees – What do I do?

Now if this week hasn’t been wild, I don’t know what has! For us Texans this cold was, to be charitable, an adventure and interesting experience.

European Honeybees, aka the bee you are mostly likely to encounter and the bees that us beekeepers raise, are more accustomed to cold weather and have specifically adapted to stay alive and active in the snow. It is our native bees that really suffer during cold snaps if they have already woken up from hibernation so if you see some bees out right now it’s probably a honeybee!

Hungry Hungry Honeybees!

Have you been seeing honeybees more than normal? Are they around your house when you’ve never seen them there before? Well despite their ability to survive long winters these bees are HUNGRY. Being in the cold forces bees to consume more of their honey stores in order to covert that food into the energy they need to warm their hives. Bees try and keep their brood at 95 °F and if brood is not present, they will conserve energy and will allow their hive temperature to fall down to 55 °F though they generally will keep it well above that temperature.

In the Rio Grande Valley the last frost of the year has generally already past and the winter crops are near harvest while the spring crops are being planted. Mid-February is the perfect time for managed and wild hives start producing more brood to gear up for the early March honey flow.

More bees and more babies mean more food is required to keep those bees alive. While the temperatures are cold they use up lots of food to keep warm and are unable to forage. In south Texas there are some flowering plants nearly all year around, but between the frost killing them and being unable to go outside for so long the honeybees are desperate for food.

So if you see bees investigating your house then do not worry! It’s a compliment and means your house smells really delicious! Valentine’s day just passed and that means many people still have fresh cut flowers in their house and even if you can’t smell them from the outside that doesn’t mean bees can’t! Floral perfumes and house cleaners, fresh or dried flowers, and sweet treats are all things that can attract bees to your house to find food.

Seeing bees around the house is no reason to worry and you can easily trap and release a bee that found her way inside. An easy way to keep bees away from the house if you are worried about children getting stung is to bribe them by putting out some sugary water in a shallow container as far away from your house as possible. You don’t have to put much, but they will be more likely to go there instead of keep investigating the home.

How to feed the bees:

Generally it is unnecessary to feed the feral bees, and you certainly don’t want to accidentally feed a beekeeper’s bees, however after this freeze putting out some sugar water is a great way to help all pollinators and keep bees away from high traffic areas of your property.

Simply warm up some water (DO NOT BOIL) and dissolve equal part sugar to create a 1:1 water/sugar ratio syrup. Place that in a shallow plate or pan, preferable with some sticks or rocks to prevent bees from drowning, in an area away from kids or pets.

Please do not feed honey, be it store bought or from a farmer’s market, to bees! There are a lot of pathogens that can spread from colony to colony found in honey. These diseases don’t affect humans in the slightest but things such as American Foulbrood can destroy a whole apiary.

The only time you need to call a beekeeper is if you suspect that you have an established hive and see a lot of bees coming in and out of an area consistently or if you see a large swarm of bees resting on or near the house.

Example of the entrance of an established hive. When you see lots of bees coming in and out of a spot like this especially if they have pollen then that is a good sign you may need a beekeeper come and remove the potential hive.
Small honeybee swarm resting on a tree. A beekeeper can collect these bees safely instead of killing them!

No! You DON’T want that cut out honey!

While honey is delicious and a perfect addition for any treat, you absolutely do not want to honey we cut out during a bee removal. Be it from a house, shed, tree, or metal equipment, nobody can be sure what that honey has been exposed to.

One of the most common contaminates we see in and around feral beehives is rodent feces. It is more frequently found in the walls of occupied houses. Rats and mice love to eat honey and bee larva so will live in the same area as a hive. They poop indiscriminately wherever they are and so feces are on and around the honeycomb.

Similarly, we always encounter roaches no matter where the hive is. We’ve seen and smelled cockroaches in every single bee removal we’ve done. Like the rodents, bugs will infiltrate a hive to eat honey and if they remain under the radar, they will not cause the bees to attack them. Along with just walking on and eating the comb, they also leave droppings everywhere and can be found stuck to the comb.

Building material and other physical or chemical contaminates are also a concern. Not only do we find dirt in places such as sheds or even houses, we also never know exactly what a building was made from. There are several houses we’ve encountered that were old enough to need to worry about lead based paint and asbestos. We even were warned about asbestos for one removal and wore respirators to protect ourselves. Homeowners often utilize chemical bug foggers and other pesticides inside their house which may seep into the area the hive is, if not haven use chemicals directly on a hive.

Fiberglass insulation is well known for being a tasty snack! Most of our removals involve touching insulation and thankfully we wear full body bee suits and gloves. We’d never want clients to consume honey that was near insulation becuase it can be dangerous.

At the end of the day bottling the cut out honey violates health and food codes. Any honey from an uninspected hive can not be sold and certainly can not be used for human consumption. Effective on September 1, 2015 Texas passed Senate Bill 1766 which specifically states that small honey producers can only bottle and sell honey from a hive that is “owned and managed by that beekeeper.”  While it is illegal to sell “rescue” or cut out honey, it is equally unethical to even give away honey to people who intend to eat it. While the comb may look clean, you just never know what it as been exposed to and can get people sick, especially younger or older folks.

We have seen other beekeepers give honey out to clients as an incentive to choose their business or just to be nice, however we in good conscious can not give people gifts that could potentially make others sick. Local, raw honey can be pricey but it’s not worth the risks!

In Texas we have a set of laws called Food Cottage Laws that allow for small businesses and individuals sell select types of products produced out of their homes without needing the home inspected by the Department of Health. Texas also has rules and regulations on how honey is bottled and labeled. Please consult with the resources below to learn more about these topics and how they relate to beekeepers.

Texas A&M AgriLife Research Texas Apiary Inspection Service – General Honey Information

Texas Cottage Food Law

Texas Ag Code Title 6, Subtitle A, Chapter 131 – Bees and Honey

This honey may look beautiful and it probably tastes just as great, there is no reason to risk you or your familiy’s health for some cut out honey!

First Spring Check 2021

Brand new, freshly hatched baby bee ready for spring!

This past weekend on Super Bee Sunday, we got to have our first real check for our over-wintered hives. It is always a bit nerve wracking going into the new bee season because it is less of matter of “did I lose hives?” and more of “how many did I lose?” and that question is the most frightening one.

As full time bee removers, sometimes we just don’t get a lot of time to be beekeepers so days like this is very refreshing even after a very, albeit expected, winter. In this particular yard we have roughly 40 hives, 28 of them were given to us last summer, and nearly every single one of them had been requeened in September. We used two different queen breeders for our stock this year and while I have notes written to compare and contrast them, I’ll refrain from naming the breeders as I’ve not had time to do more observations.

These hives had a huge problem with cross comb in the honey supers which resulted in a lot of bleeding comb and loss of honey. We requeened and changed boxes in September towards the end of the flower blooms even here in deep south Texas. Due to the loss of food stores, the hives went into winter weaker than they otherwise would have, however they were left with more than enough to over-winter successfully. The real danger? Robbing. Any apiary larger than a single hive is at danger for robbing, and even a single hive is at danger from feral hives.

Example of how cross comb works. The pink lines are where the empty frames were. The hives we were given had frames with no foundations, which only works if the beekeeper does a lot of work to insure the bees create the comb IN the frame rather than through it.

What does this has to do with the now? Well of course it is just one factor in why some of our hives did not survive this winter despite it being so mild. It was a mild winter at least until this week! We treated varroa, but between these hives being basically feral, potential robbing, and disturbing the whole hive with regicide and a coup, it is unsure why we lost the hives we lost. Of the few, most of them were hives I had already written in my notes as a potential over winter loss, so in all we came out better than I had speculated!

Going through this newly requeened hives was such a pleasure! The bees we got from California were so big and gold, while the queens from Georgia were the more similar to the familiar dark and small type bee we associate with our local ferals. When you deal with only Africanized Honeybees it can be a shock to deal with nice bees for once! These ladies didn’t fly, try to sting me, nor did the queen try to hide! One even let me watch her lay and egg, which is always amazing to see.

Sadly, there is also work involved in beekeeping! I know that’s a surprise, but sadly the bees don’t keep themselves. Several of the hives ate through most of their reserves, and many others did not fill up a lot of frames at all. Any hives with an abundance of empty space had the upper deep removed and the remaining honey and brood rearranged so that the food is as close as possible to the babies. Thankfully that foresight will be helpful for those hives to weather this cold front!

What a great day in the office!

Other than that, the bees that remained look fairly strong! They were given some fake, substitute patties and will be given some sugar syrup once the weather warms up. So far results for our hives have been positive and hopefully this trend will keep on all year!