Terry Weaver: The Bee Keeper
Located in Merritt, you will find a large number of bee hives which belong to Terry Weaver, the bee man. I was first attracted to the bee hives in the spring when I saw a sign which said, “Queen Bees for Sale.” I thought that would be an interesting article to do so I got in contact with Mr. Weaver who graciously sat down and discussed bee keeping with me. He retired from Montgomery County, Maryland, just north of DC. Where he was involved in hunting, and fishing. “I was just the usual country boy.
I moved down here in ‘89. I had bees up there for 15 years, and I had my first bee hive when I was 10 years old. That was short lived, they swarmed while I was at summer camp and when I got back, my mother had already gotten rid of the bees. I had already caught the bug and when I was in my mid-twenties I bought a guy’s aviary out. He had
about 50 hives and was moving. I got all his hives and equipment and everything. I kept bees up there and then I moved down here. “I started back to keeping bees about ten years ago. Then one thing led to another and about
eight years ago, I decided to give up my day job and go full time commercial with the bees. When I made that decision, we had about fifty bee hives. Bees are like a fire, once it’s on fire it is hard to stop it. The secret to success is to do what you need to do, when you need to do it. Most hobby
bee keepers will do the right thing at the wrong time, and that spells disaster. The biggest thing that bees have to deal with right now are the mites, parasites, and a blood sucking tick the size of the head of a pin. They nest and they get right into the brood, the baby bees and suck the blood out of the baby bees, weakening their immune
system. Then the viruses that bees have been dealing with for years will kill them because their immune system has weakened. Once this starts happening, the mites will produce exponentially 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 etc. They will look fine right now but you come back in three weeks and the hive is dead. Totally infested with bugs. You can lose a
hive quick. That is the biggest problem that the bees are having right now. The mites are called Varroa mites. If I don’t step in and take care of my hives, take care of the mites, within two years, I won’t have any hives left. All of them will be gone.
“There is no such thing as a “remedy.” You just treat the symptoms, basically. You can’t eradicate the mites, but you can control them. You can kill 99% of them, but you can’t ever get them all. So it is an ongoing thing that you just
keep treating for it. The problem is, mite is a natural problem. The mite mutated and they showed up in the honey bee hives about 50 years ago to live on another bee. It is a similar bee to a honey bee. But with a different brood cycle. It has a longer breed cycle. The mites mutated to have their brood cycle to match that of the honey bee’s shorter cycle. And then they jumped species. In evolutionary time, fifty years isn’t anything. And the European bees we use here in America just have not adapted to it. They don’t know how to clean themselves
off yet. They can do it, they just haven’t figured it out yet. They groom themselves to clean the mites off and kick them out of the hive and the problem is solved. “Bees are very prolific and because we have the problems that we are having, the bee losses, commercial bee keepers double their hives every spring. If I winter a hundred hives, in the spring I’ll split them in half. I sell bees, and now you have the idea. One hundred goes off and I keep a hundred. All your commercial bee keepers do to some degree one way or another . If you are in the commercial bee business, then if you aren’t selling bees and not making honey, you aren’t making money. You have to have
something working. I call it work the bees. You can’t let them sit idle and do nothing. Because then you aren’t making any money. Bees consume all my time. “Right now I have approximately a hundred and twenty hives. It fluctuates greatly from year to year. I did have a hundred and forty hives about six weeks ago and I have already started consolidating for the winter. I go through and find the weaker hives and the ones with queen failures. I merge them together and make strong hives to make it through the winter. Then in the spring, I thin them out again. This time of year, probably there are thirty thousand bees per
hive. In the summer time when they are in full swing, the average hive will have anywhere from forty-five to sixty thousand bees in each hive. “All honey is made up of fructose and sugar. Mostly fructose. But the glucose (sugar) will separate from the fructose and crystalize and
fall to the bottom. Fructose will never granulate. Most of your honeys will granulate because they have enough glucose in there. The clover honey has a lot of glucose in it. And it’s a very light flavored and it just happens that it
generally makes small crystals anyway. So it’s a very good honey to use for cream honey. Some make very large crystals and you don’t want to use them. “Bees get their food from here in the county, farm crops, or the ones that they grow on a regular basis anyway, is soy beans and corn. Neither one needs to be pollinated. They are both considered to be self-pollinating. Corn pollen is actually a low quality pollen for the bees, a low protein. The bees
will eat it but they prefer a higher grade of pollen and they can usually get it in the spring and summer time and they don’t need the corn. So you don’t usually see the bees working the corn. They will, but there’s usually something better out there for them. Soybean is a good source of nectar and pollen for the bees. But each flower gives a very minute amount of nectar. Trees in general will give you the darker honey, and the ground cover usually gives
you the lighter colored honey. Around here we have all kinds of ground cover. The Dutch clover, the white clover you see in your yard, the list goes on and on. “I don’t put my bees on anything, they just go to that year round. They fly where ever they can get. I don’t move them around. Most of them are close to farmers’ fields. You hear a lot about ‘no bees, no food.’ Not quite true. Now what we eat and how we grow our vegetables has changed but the fruits, the fruit and nut trees they all get pollinated. They
would suffer, tremendously. And a lot of your vegetables like your squash, zucchinis. Things of this nature would suffer. But as far as the other foods, it’s not going to make a dent in the supply. The grains are still going to be there, you will still be able to grow the foods for livestock, and it won’t completely disrupt our food chain. But you won’t be getting near as much vegetables and fruits as you get now.
And if you did they would be extremely expensive. “There are more bees now than there was two years ago. And that is because the bee keepers are making more bees. It has been increasing steadily, but that is because we are making more than we are killing. But I’m either making bees or I’m making honey. If I’m not making bees or making honey, I’m not making money. So I keep my bees working as much as possible. The only break they get is
Thanksgiving to February. That’s it. Then I start feeding them the first of February, the mite treatments go in, and as soon as you do, they start laying eggs. Food coming
in they think it is springtime already. The queen sees the food coming in, and she will start laying eggs like crazy. But she can increase the hive 20,000 bees in matter of three or four weeks. “Within the hive, the queen is making
new bees all the time and the queen is reproducing bees. The hive is a superorganism. Honey bees is one of the most successful super organisms on the planet. It’s amazing what they can get done without talking. They communicate somehow but we still don’t know how. Food is coming in in April, and it is a swarm month around here. What happens is that the hive produces a lot of bees and the hive is getting more and more congested and overcrowded. So it is time for the hive itself to reproduce. And so the hive splits. They will make a new queen cell, and once the cell is capped off, before it even emerges
as a queen, the old queen will take about half the bees and they will fly away. It is the old queen who usually leaves the hive. Then you will see them leave the hive,
and they will usually go to the tree right above the hive, and perch. They will hang there for an hour or even a couple of days. Then they will send scouts out to go and
find a new home if they haven’t already done so before they left the hive. Then the whole ball of bees will break lose and go to the new hive. They all get the message
somehow and they all fly to the new home. The old hive is still there with half the bees in it. The queen hasn’t emerged yet, but she usually emerges within a week
after this happens. Then she will fly off on her mating flight after about five days. She is now fertile and she will mate and come back and start laying eggs. And that is how the hive reproduces itself. As a superorganism. The old hive gets a brand-new queen full of vigor. The old queen, which
is a proven queen because it is obvious she has produced her own hive and she has good genetics flies off and starts a new hive. Within 30 days of her establishing a new colony, those bees will make a new queen. Once that new queen flies off on her voyage and starts laying eggs, they just stop feeding the old queen and she dies. And they kick her out. Male bees, like the queen, they make them because they need them. They make them in the spring just for swarming business for the virgin queen, so she will
have someone to mate with, and right now you can hardly find a male bee in a hive. About the first of September, they stop feeding them. The male doesn’t usually feed himself. All he does is mate and eat. And when they are done with you, you are done. It is over. You only mate once, because when you mate, you explode. You mate in the air. After they mate, the male just peels over and dies on the ground. After they mate, they are no use to the hive. So the bees stop feeding them. They are useless. They just fill up the hive, and eat and are useless as they do nothing at that point. There is no welfare in the bee
population. But the biggest problem that the bees are having in the world are the mites. And it try to tell all my bee keepers is treat for the mites. Nothing else is really
changed in the evolutionary change of events except for the mites. Mr. Weaver sells his honey at the New Bern farmers’ Market every Tuesday from 10 am to 2 pm and every Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm. He has different types of honey as well as honey comb for sell. For more information, call Terry Weaver at 252-249-6170.