Keeping an eye on honey bee; more East Texas residents helping bees brew the honey

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The relationship between humans and honey bees is becoming more dynamic as bee populations begin to decrease. Nearly 30 percent of hives are dying each year, but beekeepers say this isn't a cause for concern, but it is time for more people to become beekeepers.

Cecil Hunt, a retired engineer for Lufkin Industries, started keeping honey bees several years ago.

"I like wood working so I can build the hives and the inner parts of the hive and I'm also fascinated with the organization of the social insect called honey bees," Hunt said.

Hunt says one of the biggest misconceptions about honey bees is that they are aggressive and that they don't help out humans.

"Without honeybees to pollinate the cotton plants, you wouldn't have cotton in the abundance that we have it. So you might still have your blue jeans, but they would be much more expensive," Hunt said. "Most people don't realize that one out of three bites you eat is due to a honey bee pollinating a plant somewhere so if you take away the honey bees, a lot of good foods that we like to eat wouldn't be available."

Hunt says he started clustering his bees back in 2002 and spends most of his time helping them make honey for their colony, and for himself.

"Being an engineer, I like things that are organized and predictable and a lot of ways bees are that way. They are just so fascinating to me in the way that they have their lives organized," Hunt said.

But honey bee numbers are starting to decrease because of pests like moth laid larvae that eat the nectar bees work hard to make.

Hunt says without the honey, the bees will die. But larvae aren't the only honey bee predators. In fact, every time you kill a pesky honey bee, you're doing more harm than good.

"They aren't just out to get folks, but if somebody came into your house and started harming your kids you would get pretty defensive as well and that's what they do. They get defensive when we break into their houses," Cary Sims, the county extension agent for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service of Angelina County, said.

Sims says most of the time we will generally see honey bees, but there are all different types of bees we need to keep an eye on.

"There's Germans, and Italians. There's Russians and there's the Africanized bees. The Africanized bees they are very defensive and as bee keepers if we find a hive that is overly aggressive, a lot of times we'll re queen the hive to change the genetics and to change the temperament," Sims said.

When a beekeeper requeens, that's when they kill the queen bee. They will then introduce a new female bee as the queen bee.

Sims says the decline in numbers isn't something we need to worry about, especially since beekeepers will split or divide healthy colonies to grow their hive numbers. But he does want people to know that honey bees are our friends.

"It's a great hobby. There's the honey. There's the wax. There's the opportunity to see what's really going on in the world and around you. Like Cecil said, there are so many neat and interesting things that the way that one critter, I mean thousands of them, they work together," Sims said.

And Hunt agrees.

"The secret to good beekeeping is to have lots of bees where's there nectar to be had and the bees will do the rest of the work. We as beekeepers just promote trying to keep the bees content and healthy until the queen can lay enough eggs to create enough bees to go out and get the honey," Hunt said.

The AgriLife Extension office will be having a Beekeeping Basics seminar on Monday, August 19 at 6:30 p.m. It is $10 per person and will feature Hunt as he goes more in depth on how his bees are helping him make a buck or two on homegrown vegetables and fruits.

For more information, contact Cary Sims at cw-sims@tamu.du.

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