In its third year, the Henderson County Beekeepers Association has more than 30 members and with spring less than a month away, they're busy as a bee.
“Spring is the best time to get involved with beekeeping,” Janelle Cole said. “Most know that honeybees are not very active during the cooler weather. In fact, they stay in a ball inside the hive unless the temperatures exceed 50 degrees. When spring starts teasing us with warmer days and the trees start producing pollen, the bees become more active and come out of their winter inactivity. Once these things start happening, the queen bee reads the signals from the incoming pollen, warmer days and earlier sunrises and she starts laying eggs to expand the hive.”
Cole has an apiary at her Athens property.
“Spring time is the natural time for honeybees to split,” she said. “This is how honeybees multiply. If you have ever heard of or seen a swarm of bees fly by, you might mistake them for an airplane by the noise. You might have seen a big ball of bees hanging from a fence or a tree, and this is called a swarm as well. This is most common from late February through May.”
And beekeepers often take advantage of this time of year.
“The queen bee in the hive decides the hive is too full of bees, and her workers have her lay eggs to grow a few new queens. Then they start to restrict her diet so she loses a bit of her weight so she can fly again. Then, she and about 50 to 60 percent of the older bees in the hive leave to find a new home. The new queens that were raised then hatch out and fight to the death to see who the new queen of the hive will be. At this point, new bees are hatching every day and the colony begins to grow again.”
Sometimes, the queens have help.
“The beekeeper will notice all those same signs and manually split the hive themselves, resulting in growth in their apiary for little cost,” Cole said. “It is important for the beekeeper to know what is required in each new hive that he creates.”
One queen is sufficient for a colony of 30,000 to 40,000 bees. The queen is fertilized once and can live for about six years, producing eggs throughout that time.
“We welcome anyone to our meetings who is interested in learning more about the amazing honeybee, anyone new to beekeeping or anyone with some experience,” Cole said. “Connect with us to learn about local residents who are teaching beekeeping classes, selling hives of bees, and selling honey.”
The Henderson County Beekeepers formed in 2016, despite the existence of other similar clubs in East Texas. After local residents expressed interest in a club closer to home, five beekeepers from the East Texas Beekeepers Association met and decided to create the Athens club.
“We invite speakers from all over Texas to come in each month to teach a different facet of our interest,” Cole said.