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How to Bring All the Bees to the Yard

Hives at LBIF Maintained by Mothflower Apiary of Tuckerton
Apr 12, 2019

Paul Buterick of Mothflower Apiary in Tuckerton has been raising bees since 2015. He first became interested in the benefits of bees to help pollinate his backyard garden. But four years and many hives later, he’s too busy tending his bees to focus on gardening. He currently manages five hives at his home, four at a friend’s house, and two at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences in Loveladies, where he met up one early spring day for an introduction and demonstration. His goal is to have 40 hives established by next winter.

He took over the care of the LBIF hives in 2017 when former beekeeper Michael Long left the area. On Fridays during the summer, the hives are part of a guided nature trail tour on the LBIF property that also includes the monarch waystation, osprey blind, turtle garden and rain garden.

Anytime he has a captive audience, Buterick said, he’s happy to talk bees and help spread awareness about their plight: In short, the declining bee population spells trouble for global food production.

One idea he wishes to share is that a “weed” is in the eye of the beholder (the bee holder?) – e.g. dandelions are flowers that are important vehicles for pollination. Plant trees, he says, especially deciduous trees such as silver, red and Norway maple, tulip poplar and sumac, and let vines and weeds grow. The neighbors may not love it, but pollinators will. One tree canopy can produce an acre’s worth of flowers, he said, and when that same tree grows old and hollows out, it becomes habitat.

Buterick is a self-educated beekeeper who learned from books, documentaries and YouTube videos.

A beginner should start with two hives in order to make helpful comparisons.

A solid rig consists of a bottom board raised off the ground and a stack of bee boxes – brood nests on the bottom with additional boxes called honey supers to be added on top, later in the season. Kelly Beekeeping is one of many equipment suppliers, he noted. Three ways to get bees: order a package of bees or a nucleus hive, or put a bait box in a tree and catch a wild swarm.

Some beekeepers start hives with a foundation made of beeswax, some use plastic, and some use no foundation at all, he said. When bees eat honey, they secrete wax, which they use to build their comb – a process called festooning.

Beekeeping truly is science and art, Buterick said. The science, of course, is bee biology, flowers, timing, life cycles; but when it comes to hive design, “if you can dream it, it can be done.” Hobbyists engineer different ways to safeguard against temperature fluctuations and other threats. Buterick lays a 1-inch sheet of foam insulation between the boxes’ inner and outer covers.

Beekeeping is surprisingly fun, he said, though keeping the hives alive can prove challenging. And some of the regulations can get a bit sticky. In New Jersey, all bee yards where hives are overwintering must be registered with the state Department of Agriculture. More than 3,000 are registered in the state.

“I worry constantly,” he said, but mostly in winter: Are they staying warm enough? Will they starve? Buterick likes each of his hives to weigh about 130 pounds heading into winter; about half the weight is honey for the bees’ food supply. Their diet can be supplemented with dry white sugar and pollen patties. Other concerns range from mite infestations to bacterial diseases such as European Foulbrood.

When he did his first inspection of the year in late March, he found healthy eggs and small patches of brood inside the comb. “I’m more excited about these eggs than Cadbury eggs, and that’s saying something,” he told his Instagram audience. (Follow @mothflowerapiary.)

When the outdoor temperature reaches about 50, the bees will leave the hive to go on cleansing flights and pollinating excursions, collecting nectar and pollen. Pollen is a protein source, primarily used to raise their brood. This time of year, Buterick said, the bees might be active one day and clustered up inside the boxes the next. To keep the temperature inside the hive at 92 degrees, the workers will cluster around the queen and vibrate to keep her warm.

When bees are alarmed, Buterick explained, they emit a pheromone that smells like bananas. The smoke pouring from a handheld smoker helps to mask the scent and calm the bees. Still, getting stung now and then is an occupational hazard to which he’s grown accustomed.

“They might get a little cantankerous now,” he said as he removed the cover from one of the boxes.

With his tiny winged friends swirling around him, alighting on his clothing, hands and beard, Buterick gently lifted from the box some frames to show the comb, where in some areas fresh nectar is stored, while in other areas capped brood cells contain pupae.

One hive contains 50,000 bees, all working in industrious harmony with a single-minded objective. “No one bee is responsible (for the task at hand); it takes thousands working together, and somehow they all do it perfectly,” he said. The workers are female; the drones’ only job is to mate with the queen. The queen has one mating flight but otherwise never leaves the hive, laying eggs around the clock. “She’s really like a prisoner,” Buterick mused.

In the spring, a hive builds up its population to maximize field force, with the ultimate goal to swarm. A beehive is considered a superorganism, Buterick explained – a social unit with a highly organized division of labor, or “a composite being that functions as an integrated whole,” as eloquently stated in Thomas Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy. When the hive achieves a critical mass, half of the bees take off with the queen to start a new colony.

Each of his hives will yield 40 to 50 pounds of honey, harvested once a year. At his Tuckerton residence it will happen sometime in mid-July, and at LBIF in September.

— Victoria Ford

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