Gardening 101

All About Bees

Bee on a flower

Let me tell you about the birds and the bees. Spring is here, and as the song goes…

Let me tell you about the birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees and the moon up above, and a thing called love! Spring is in the air and so are the honey bees! That’s what beekeepers call love!

Do you know that the Official State Insect of North Carolina is the honey bee? That’s right!

Springtime is a busy time of year. The earth begins to awaken, birds begin to sing, trees, plants, and flowers bloom and grow and so do honey bees.

You ask how do honey bees bloom and grow? Honey bees swarm. Spring is swarm season. Beginning in early April and continuing thru June, honey bee colonies begin to divide and reproduce new colonies. How do they do this?  Honey bees swarm.

A honey bee swarm is a honey bee colony reproduction in action. In the spring and into early summer honey bee colonies will grow in population. Once the population increases and grows beyond the current hive capacity, a sizable amount of bees will leave their home with the queen, some female worker bees, some male drone bees, and venture out in a swarm in search of a new hive location.

The activity of a swarm is a natural event that may happen many times throughout the year. A honey bee swarm is generally extra-gentle, and not something to be feared. This wonderful instinct and natural event is a good thing. Something that honeybee lovers cherish. Why is this a good thing? Because our world, nation, country, states, and cities so desperately need more honey bees. Honey bees reproducing is a good thing. A very good thing!

When the bees leave the hive, the members leaving are so excited. My thoughts on what they are saying goes something like this; “Oh boy we are getting a new home! I can’t wait to see my new home!”

After exiting, and while in transit, the bees will swarm (ball) into a cluster attached to whatever they decide to and await for their scouts to find, and then guide them to a new hive location. A cluster of honey bees attached to a low-hanging limb, shrub, or even on a mailbox is not an unusual occurrence this time of year. Though a swarm of bees may sometimes frighten people, honey bees are usually not aggressive at this stage of their life cycle.

But the fact is, the swarm can be a nuisance and in a location that is inconvenient to us humans. Swarming is a natural reproduction process for bees in the wild. Swarming creates a vulnerable time in the life of honey bees. The bees in the swarm eat before leaving the hive and are provisioned only with the nectar or honey they carry in their stomachs. A swarm will starve if it does not quickly find a home and more nectar stores.

I know, I know…that being said, honey bee swarms can be very unnerving to people unaccustomed to this behavior or familiar with honey bee love. If you suspect you have a swarm in your yard, or if you see a swarm, call a beekeeper.

The Wake County Beekeepers Association maintains a list of its members who are ready to capture swarms. The swarm list is organized throughout the county. To find a beekeeper close to you, go to the Wake County Beekeepers Association website –

Here are a list of questions that the beekeeper will ask to help determine the location and nature of the swarm. If you are calling about a swarm, it is best to try to have the answers to these questions ready when speaking with beekeeper about a potential honey bee swarm.

Things a swarm removal collector/reporter should ask.

1. Are they honey bees?

2. When were they noticed?

3. What has been done?

4. Has any pesticide been used?

5. Has anyone else been called?

6. Has anyone been stung?

7. How large is the cluster/swarm? Basketball or softball size?

8. Where is it, specifically? In a tree, shrub, mailbox, picnic table, etc.

9. How high up are they? Do you have a ladder available if needed?

10. Do you plan to call someone else?

11. Do we have permission to collect the bees?

12. Is this your property? Give specific directions to get to the swarm site

Please give our beekeepers time to respond. If they do not respond within an hour or two, please feel free to call Tom and Kim Underhill at 919-272-4450 or email the program chair at

Other things to think about:

1. Become a beekeeper
Beekeeping is a most enjoyable, fascinating and interesting hobby – and you get to eat your own honey too. Who keeps bees? Anybody can keep honey bees. In North Carolina, farmers, businessmen, homemakers, carpenters, children, doctors, university professors, and just about anyone else you can imagine keeps bees.

Is North Carolina an important beekeeping state? Definitely! North Carolina ranks in the top ten states based on its number of beehives. In addition, there are more beekeepers in North Carolina than any other state. Every year local beekeeping associations run courses to help new people to take up beekeeping and even help them find the equipment they need and a colony of bees. For information visit Wake County Beekeepers Association or North Carolina State Beekeepers Association websites for more details.

2. Help to protect swarms
Swarming is a natural necessary process and a vulnerable time for honey bees. If you see a swarm, contact a local beekeeper, the local authority or the police who will contact a local beekeeper who will collect the swarm and take it away. Honeybees in a swarm are usually very gentle and present very little danger. They can be made aggressive if disturbed or sprayed with water. Just leave them alone and wait for a competent beekeeper to arrive.

3. Plant your garden with bee friendly plants
In areas of the county, state and country where there are few agricultural crops, honeybees rely upon garden flowers to ensure they have a diverse diet and to provide nectar and pollen. Encourage honeybees to visit your garden by planting flowering plants, shrubs trees and various herbs and vegetables. Bees like variety and here are some that I know from personal experience that bees just love! Salvias, asters, hyssop, coreopsis, verbena Jo Pie weed, canola, butterfly bush, poppies, and clovers to name a few.

They love these herbs: Lavender, rosemary, oregano, borage, catmint, alliums, and mints of all kinds. Bees need a lot of pollen and trees are a good source of food. Trees that bees covet are red maples, tulip popular, sourwood, red buds and, of course, various fruit trees like apples, cherries and peaches.

4. Buy local honey
Buy and eat more honey! Local honey that is. Honey extracted by local beekeepers can be found for sale at local farmers markets, the State Fair and from private individuals. Buying local helps the beekeeper cover the costs of beekeeping. Better yet buy North Carolina certified honey.

The North Carolina State Beekeepers adopted a standard of honey two years ago. The standard defines honey as the natural, sweet substance produced by honey bees from the nectar of plants. The North Carolina State Beekeepers Association has developed a certified label for its members who agree to adhere to certain standards. To qualify for the program honey must be pure honey and not adulterated with anything. If the beekeeper implies that it is produced locally, that must be true.

When you see this label, “Certified by the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association,” affixed to a jar of honey, you will know that it is pure honey. “By agreeing to the terms of this program, our members agree that the honey they offer for sale will be true to the information on the label and nothing less,” said Danny Jaynes, president of the NC State Beekeepers Association.

The certified label program by North Carolina beekeepers is a way to inform the public of the excellence and purity of honey bearing this certified label.

5. Ask your Local Government Officials to improve research into honey bee health
Beekeepers are very worried that we do not have enough information to combat the diseases that affect honeybees. Pollination by honeybees contributes annually to the agricultural economy. An estimated 80 percent of crop insect pollination is accomplished by honey bees. About one-third of the total human diet, one in every three bites, is derived directly or indirectly from insect-pollinated plants. Honey bees are the most important insect pollinator for crops grown in North Carolina. Vegetable and fruit crops that require honey bees include cucumbers, blueberries, watermelons, apples, squash, strawberries, melons, and peaches.

6. Find space for a beehive in your garden
Many would-be beekeepers, especially in urban areas, find it difficult to find a safe space for their colony of bees. If you have some space contact your local beekeeping association and they could find a beekeeper in need of a site. It is amazing what a difference a beehive will make to your garden.

7. Learn more about this fascinating insect
Beekeeping is fascinating. Honeybees have been on this earth for about 25 million years and are ideally adapted to their natural environment. Without honeybees the environment would be dramatically diminished. Invite a beekeeper to come and talk to any local group you support and give an illustrated talk about the honeybee and the products of the hive. There is nothing us Honey Bee lovers like better than talking about bees!

8. Bee friendly
When kept properly, bees are good neighbors, and only sting when provoked. Beekeepers wear protective clothing when they are handling bees. If a bee hovers inquiringly in front of you when unprotected, do not flap your hands. Stay calm and move slowly away, best into the shade of shed or a tree. The bee will soon lose interest. It is worth remembering that bees do not like the smell of alcohol on people, the “animal” smell of leather clothing, even watchstraps. Bees regard dark clothing as a threat – it could be a bear. Bees are sometimes confused by scented soaps, shampoos and perfumes, best avoided near the hive.

On a more serious note:  A Recent Problem
Honey bees have been important in the pollination of many plants grown in North Carolina, but recently there has been a serious problem. The accidental introduction of two mite pests into the Americas in recent years has drastically reduced the number of honey bee colonies throughout the Americas, in the U.S. and in North Carolina. We have lost over one-third of our managed bee colonies (bees kept by beekeepers) in the state within the last five years and the problem is ongoing. In addition, over 90% of the feral honey bee colonies (honey bees living in the wild) have also been destroyed by the mite pests. This reduction in honey bee numbers means fewer bees for pollination. Beekeepers, researchers and state regulators are all working to reduce the impact of the mite pests on honey bees, but in the meantime it is in everyone’s interest to protect all of the remaining honey bee colonies that we have in both managed beehives and in the wild.

Please help save our honey bees – become a beekeeper today & eat more North Carolina Certified local honey.

For more information, contact any of the following:

Wake County Beekeepers Association at: 

North Carolina State Beekeepers Association:

Tom & Kim Underhill – North Carolina Certified Beekeepers: 919-272-4450

Wake County Beekeepers Association 2013 Program Director – 919-272-4450

Kim Underhill is program director for the Wake County Beekeepers Association.

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