Hill County Beekeepers are doing their part to preserve pollinators

Reporter: Ellie Mahan

June 22, 2022

The Hill County Beekeepers Association meets the third Tuesday of each month to learn about how to preserve a crucial component of American agriculture, the honeybee. People from Hill County and surrounding areas attend the meeting for fellowship and education on the hobby of beekeeping. Attendees interact, ask each other questions, and new beekeepers gain mentors who are more experienced and live in their area.

Donn Beighley, president of the Hill County Beekeepers Association, said that during the six years he has been a part of the club, he has seen people with varying levels of knowledge of beekeeping come together at the meetings. “We even have people who come and just want to know about beekeeping without even having bees because they want to decide if they want to get into it,” he said. The club has attendees who keep anywhere from two to 100 hives.

Honeybees produced 157 million pounds of honey in 2019, for a dollar value of $339 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Honey naturally offers healthful properties, such as antibacterial action, wound-healing effects, dietary antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects.

Local honey is also said to be anti-allergenic. Although honey is not scientifically proven to cure seasonal allergies, some studies, including one completed by The National Library of Medicine, show correlation between ingesting honey daily and an improvement in allergy symptoms. Consuming local honey is thought to expose people to local pollen, which could lead them to be less sensitive to the pollen they are allergic too.

Beighley said that local honey works best for anti-allergenic purposes, and he defines local honey as one that is produced within 50 miles of the buyer’s home. He urged people to visit a local farmers market and ask where the honey is produced. Those who purchase honey at a local farmers market may even be buying from a member of the Hill County Beekeepers Association, as many of the members sell their honey locally.

In addition to bees’ production of honey, beeswax is another money-making product created by bees. Beeswax is a popular ingredient in candles, artists’ materials, leather and wood polishes. It is also used in the pharmaceutical industry as a binding agent, time-release mechanism and drug carrier.

Even more important than what they produce, the honeybee’s most vital contribution to agriculture is that it pollinates more than 90 types of commercial crops. The FDA states that about one-third of the food Americans eat comes from crops pollinated by honeybees. A few foods that depend on honeybees include apples, melons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli and almonds. Almost one out of every three to four bites of food Americans eat is made possible by pollinators, according to Beighley.

The honeybee population has been decreasing by the billions in recent years. There are about 2.5 million honeybee colonies in the United States today, whereas there were 6 million honeybee colonies in the U.S. in 1947. Causes of the decline in the honeybee population include parasites and pests, pathogens, poor bee nutrition, lethal exposure to pesticides, changes to the habitat where bees forage or monoculture farming.

There are numerous ways for people to help prevent the decrease of the bee population, regardless of where they live. Increasing rural spaces in urban areas is one way for those who live in the city to support bee life. Other ways to save the bees include maintaining green backyards and gardens, growing native flowers and letting some weed species grow. Beighley encouraged people to let dandelions grow because these and similar weeds provide an important food source for bees.

Beighley said that beekeepers communicate with farmers who plan to spray insecticide so that they can prevent the chemicals from harming their bees. “We are very much in a farming community here, so we have to be careful and interact with the farmers around us,” he said. If beekeepers are aware that a farmer is going to spray insecticide, beekeepers can close up their beehives for a couple of hours or ask the farmer to wait until there is no wind.

Beighley said that anyone who is interested in taking up beekeeping can attend one of the meetings. The club has recently had attendance ranging between 23 and 45 people. To become a member, simply attend a meeting and pay the fee, which is currently $15 for a family membership.

Three interesting facts about honeybees are: honeybees never sleep; a queen bee can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day; a large colony of 40-60 thousand bees maintain a temperature of 93 degrees inside the hive. The main purpose of worker bees, which is one of the three types of honey bees, is to protect the queen bee. To maintain the 93 degree temperature inside the hive, worker bees flap their wings to fan the queen in the summer, and gather close together to keep the queen bee warm during the winter.

For more facts about honeybees or the Hill County Beekeepers Association, visit hillcountybeekeepers.org.

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