MIDLOTHIAN, TX — On a windy, sunny day ripe with opportunity and promise, it was time to visit the bees. One does not just jauntily walk up to bees in their home. Great care and respect is in every cautious step in their direction. Voices are kept at a low and moderated tone. A mere few feet from the hive one can see them being, well, busy as bees!
The bees buzzing, wildflowers blowing in the wind and even the drone of cars on the nearby freeway give this bucolic scene a sense of harmony and relaxation. “It is so gratifying to keep bees,” said local beekeeper Tim Wallace. “When I hear the buzz of bees, it is very peaceful to me. When there are thousands of bees flying around you, I think it helps in your approach to life to say, ‘Yes, there can be calm in the storm.’” Tim Wallace learned about bees from his parents, as they owned beehives. While living in California, he returned to Texas to visit his parents. During the visit, a rainstorm blew all of their hives over. He remembers the mess it created. “It was raining and honey was everywhere. I helped my parents get the hives set back up. It was not a good introduction to beekeeping, but it did fascinate me.
When I returned to California, I took a beekeeping course in 1976 at one of the local colleges.” Soon after the hives mishap, Tim returned to Texas. His folks had five to six hives by then, and he helped with their care. After his dad passed, he continued to help his mom take care of the bees, until she eventually sold the hives. For many years, Tim’s odyssey with bees was over. Two to three years ago, Tim became interested in bees again and joined a beekeeping club, Metro Beekeepers Association (MBA). “By default, last year I was elected vice president,” he smiled. “That’s one of those things where if people don’t step up and volunteer, then our volunteer organizations are not going to be. We cover the four-county area of Ellis, Johnson, Tarrant and Parker. We have the southern part of the Metroplex with about 100 people at our meetings. About two years ago, when I started going to the club, there were only 25 members.”
The MBA focuses on education about bees and funds scholarships for students who want to learn about bees. In 2012, the association had eight scholarship recipients. The club provides scholarship recipients with a colony of bees, all the wooden ware, free membership in the club for a year and books for beekeeping classes. “They go from knowing nothing about bees to having us provide them with a hive, which is the home for the bees,” Tim explained. “The white little box that you see out in the field is the hive, the physical home. The colony is the family of bees — the queen bee, several thousand workers and a few drones. The queen of a hive is just like the mother in a home. She sets the pace, and if you have a good, strong queen, you’ll have a good, strong hive. The only purpose of the drone bees is to mate with the queen. Heading into the winter months they will be kicked out of the hive. The worker bees are all girls. Worker bees have the job of guarding the hive, grooming the queen and foraging. When a lot of beekeepers see one another they will say, ‘How are your girls doing?’” Beekeepers must have a sense of the sensitive nature of bees. Bees must keep their hive at a constant temperature of 92 degrees year-round. “I don’t like to open my hives up too much, because it stresses them out,” Tim said.
“If it’s chilly, I won’t “When I hear the buzz of bees, it is very peaceful to me.” open the hive, because they really have to work to keep that temperature at 92. During cold weather, the bees will cluster around the queen to keep her warm. In the summertime, when it’s 110 degrees outside, they bring water in and fan their wings to cool it down to 92 degrees.” Another behavior of bees is swarming. That is when the queen leaves with a large group of workers. This usually occurs in the spring. “Swarming is a natural phenomenon, and bees will do it for various reasons,” Tim explained. “If there is not enough room in the hive or if a queen is not performing well, then they begin proceedings to make a new queen. The new queen takes over the colony, and the old queen will split off or swarm, and that’s what people see. They gorge themselves with honey and fly out looking for a new home.”
It is the honey that many creatures crave. Honey purchased at the local grocery is a lot different than honey from a beekeeper. “That honey has all the good stuff and pollen filtered out. It’s been heated, and that kills the enzymes. If you want to be assured of real honey, buy from a local keeper. Honey gets its taste from the source of the nectar such as cotton, mesquite and citrus, to name a few.
Honey never spoils, because the bees get the water level down to about 17 percent. When the water gets down to that level, it’s going to stay good. Honey has been found in Egyptian tombs, and it still tastes good.” Tim does sell some of his honey, if he has a surplus. Sometimes, he leaves it in the hive to keep the colony strong. Bees have a much more important function for humans than making great-tasting honey. One-third of all the food we eat comes from pollination by bees. For a creature so necessary to the food chain, it is noticeable if a problem ensues.
Tim refers to them as the canary in the coal mine. They are a warning sign. If they start to show distress, a crisis may be coming. It is documented that bees are in decline all over the world for many reasons. One theory that receives much attention is the amount of pesticides in the environment. Another is a phenomenon not fully understood called Colony Collapse Disorder, where an entire colony is decimated. “One out of every three bites of food is because the bees have pollinated that food,” Tim stated. “When we lose the bees, we will be hurt. The bees may be trying to say, ‘Take care of us, because we are taking care of you.’ I’m not a tree hugger, but I love the bees!”