Bee populations abuzz after rainy weather

The past two years’ unseasonable weather was a buzzkill for many beekeepers.

But things are looking up for keepers like Paul Hodge, president of the Ashland Beekeepers Association.

“I’m optimistic that this is a good year,” Hodge said.

Bees pour out of  one of Paul Hodge’s hives. Hodge and his wife have been focused on rebuilding their bee population after an off-year.

Bees pour out of one of Paul Hodge’s hives. Hodge and his wife have been focused on rebuilding their bee population after an off-year.

All the rain this year has benefited bee populations because the wild flowers and other plants that bees pollinate were “bountiful,” Hodge said.

Weather plays a huge role in the survival of bees. Last year, Hodge and his wife lost a number of their hives. Because of dry conditions, pollen sources were limited, so the insects resorted to anything they could find which resulted in non-nutritious pollen. Many diminished because of it.

“Trying to recover was the biggest [challenge] of all,” Hodge said about last year.

It is normal for keepers to lose at least 25 percent of their hives in the winter because the life expectancy of a bee is only six weeks from when it hatches, according to Hodge. During the winter, bees need about 50-60 pounds of honey to survive through the cold months.

In 2012, the Hodges’ hives generated over 400 pounds of honey but this year they didn’t have any. Hodge said honey-making centers on the number of bees in each hive.

As a result, Hodge and his wife are focused on increasing their bee count. The ideal number of bees needed to generate a large supply of honey is 40,000.

When it’s plentiful, Hodge said they sell their local honey at the Ashland Farmer’s Market and other places around town.

Hodge has kept bees for almost nine years, but beekeeping is just a hobby for him. He has belonged to the Ashland Beekeepers Association for numerous years and has served as president for the past three years. Hodge said the group is much bigger than when he first joined. The organization now has 80 to 100 members and continues to grow.

The Association has recently received some publicity, which Hodge thinks is why more people are starting to get into beekeeping.

The group offers beginners classes for who they term “newbies,” where individuals can get a taste of beekeeping and decide whether or not they want to take it up. If they do like it, they can buy their first box of bees.

Beekeepers stay fairly busy checking on the insects and making sure they’re doing OK during the warmer months. But in the winter, things slow down and a lot of the work involves cleaning tools and rebuilding or painting hives. They also have to check on the food supplies in January. Hodge said his wife makes sugar patties, which hold the bees over until February.

Because the weather has been slightly unpredictable at times, it can confuse the bees and they might begin laying eggs too early.

A false start of spring can really damage a hive because as soon as winter is over, bees have to get to work.

“It’s a critical time for bees to ramp up,” Hodge said.

As for this year, Hodge is hopeful because he thinks nature balances itself out. If one year the winter is really cold, the next will be more normal so he knows what to expect for his bees.

“I’m hoping for an average winter,” he said.

Posted on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 11:19 am