Aubrey beekeeper provides insight into pollinating insects
When Bursting Bees co-owner Michell Boerst came to talk about bees at the Lake Ray Roberts Rotary Club meeting on May 4, she brought some little helpers and a member of royalty with her.
Bursting Bees, based in Aubrey, removes unwanted bees, which they then care for.
Boerst brought in a bee box with painted Texas wildflowers on the side with one of the colonies she recently collected from a bee removal. She shared lots of details that many don’t know about who and what is actually happening in the hive.
The Hive is Mostly Female
The hive is predominately female. There are only a few males in the hive—around 10%. “Our drones don’t do anything, absolutely nothing [in the hive],” Boerst said to an uproar of laughter.
She went on explain further. Drones do not mate with the queen of their hive because that’s their mother. They leave the hive and go to a drone congregation area at this time of year, early spring and summer. There they mate with new virgin queens on the queen’s maiden flight.
“Other than swarming, it’s the only time she’ll ever leave the hive,” Boerst said. The queen is born with all the eggs she will ever lay. She will mate only once in her lifetime with about 10 drones on her maiden flight.
The queen then begins laying eggs and will live about two years. Her offspring will live about six weeks in the warmer months and about 12 weeks in the cooler months. Males will live only one season.
The female workers do all the work of the hive. They feed the larvae, clean the hive and guard the hive. Then they turn into foragers and bring water, nectar and pollen to the hive.
What do Bees Actually Eat
Adult bees, Boerst explained, eat honey while the larvae eat royal jelly along with nectar and pollen mixed together, called a bee bread.
Royal jelly is a protein-packed secretion that is produced from a gland on their forehead by nurse bees. All larvae receive this; however, queen bees receive copious amounts of this royal jelly, causing that specific larvae to mature into the queen.
Boerst then explained the make-up of nectar and how it turns into honey. It is 80% percent water while the rest is “flower juice,” she said. The bees will then use their wings to dehumidify it, and when the mixture reaches 22% flower juice, it becomes honey. Nectar stays in the wax cells, and when it reaches the right viscosity, the bees will seal the cell with wax to be saved for winter stores.
Bees will not plan and stop when there is enough, Boerst said. They will just keep producing honey.
“Their job is to bring in nectar, pollen, water, nectar, pollen, water,” she said.
She explained that the bees will store more than they will use and that is why beekeepers feel comfortable taking the honey.
“They’re programmed to just make honey. So, they make quite a lot. We leave the bees with 50 pounds of honey for the winter, and we sometimes take a hundred pounds for ourselves from a large hive,” she said.
Making Profits in Beekeeping
Modern day beekeeping is not primarily about selling honey, Boerst said. The largest part of it is pollination for commercial farming. Bees will be sent on semi-trucks to many locations around the United States.
“Texas supplies 70% of the bees for the almond fields in California. You can get 409 colonies on a semi, and they take millions and millions of bees out there,” Boerst said.
Boerst also pointed to another revenue stream to her business of beekeeping. Social media. Boerst said she was shocked by the amount of interest in their life of beekeeping.
Spring means swarm season. Boerst said it’s been a very successful season in the number of swarms she has rescued.
When Bees Swarm and Bee Removal
A swarm is a ball of bees seen outside of a hive.
“If you see that and want to have them removed, call a beekeeper and they’ll come get them for free. If someone tries to charge you, go to the next one,” she said. That’s because beekeepers love swarms. “They’re easy [for us] to grab. They come with a guaranteed queen,” she said.
One of the places to find beekeepers in the area is through the social pages of the Denton Beekeeper Association.
How You Can Help Bees
Boerst explained if people want to plant flowers that are bee safe, they can plant neonicotinoid-free ones. Neonicotinoid is a poison sprayed on the seed making the whole plant systematically poisoned, Boerst told the group. As a result of lobbying, plants that contain the chemical must be labeled.
She also said planting flowers that bloom all year long is a major help for the bees because blooms become scarce around July and February.
Other help during those non-blooming times of year can include water dishes with marbles or fruits like watermelon rinds. However, she strongly discouraged putting out sugar water for bees.
“Honeybees are not as endangered as a few years ago because it’s become a really popular hobby,” Boerst said.
Questions about Bees in the Area
Some questions at the end of the presentation included how did her bees fare during the winter storm. She said they lost four of their 25 hives but now had around 60 because of the incredible swarm season.
Another question was about Africanized bees. Every feral hive has a little bit of Africanized DNA, she said. And although it is still a possibility to run into some Africanized bee colonies, she said, she has rarely run into them in her years working with bees.
When asked what kind of home remedy would work for a bee sting, Boerst said, “heat.” She said putting a hot spoon on the sting or using a hair dryer to blow heat on it will take the pain away.
Bursting Bees honey can be found at Martin General Store on the Pilot Point Square.
Managing Editor Abigail Allen contributed to this report.