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First half of year busiest time for buzzing little pollinators

Spring is officially here. The sun is shinning, and the flowers are beginning to bloom attracting hundreds of bees to the area.

Area residents can hear the buzzing sound as the bees work to build hives and search for their next source of pollen.

While the buzzing might be a nuisance, some area residents have grown to appreciate the benefits bees offer such as honey, wax, pollination services and much more.

According to Jim Zeigler, a member of the Halifax County Beekeeper’s Association, the county is home to over 100 apiaries, and a majority of these beekeepers are members of the Halifax County Beekeeper Association.

The association is comprised of 45 members dedicated to providing bees for pollination needs of the emerging fruit and vegetable operations in the county and Southside Virginia.

In addition to pollination services, the association provides educational, programs and mentoring needs to beekeepers.

“We have also served as an outreach for farmers and the general public alike on the value of honeybee pollination in our
geographical area. Assistance with swarm capture, bee removal and educational programs has been a sponsored service by our members. Our organization has primarily served Halifax County, but it also reaches into Mecklenburg, Charlotte, Campbell and Pittsylvania counties as well as parts of North Carolina,” Zeigler said. 

Members remove bees from people’s property on a best effort basis when it is safe for the owner, the beekeeper and in the best interest of the bees. 

“We are always available to make the assessment on removals and provide consultation to property owners with bee problems or needs,” Ziegler added.

Halifax County has a mix of beekeepers, he added, ranging from those who just have one or two hives to a couple who has 80 to 100 hives or more.  

The county has no commercial beekeepers who earn a living solely on operating a full-time bee keeping business.

Those with only a few beehives are considered hobbyists, and those in the county with over 50 hives are considered sideliners.

“Our hobby beekeepers just keep bee colonies for their own pleasure, pollination of their gardens and flowers and a bit of honey for their own use. Folks with 10 or more hives may sell a small amount of honey, beeswax and possibly an occasional pollination service for a local orchard or vegetable farmer. We also have members who make soaps and cosmetics with beeswax,” Zeigler said. “Our sideline beekeepers typically place honey in local country stores or fruit stands, have pollination contracts with growers and provide a more extensive service of bee removal, swarm capture and some bee sales.”

According to Zeigler, given a wide range of internal and external parasites, viruses, spore diseases, etc. that affect the honeybee, colony management is a constant duty for today’s beekeeper.

As with any other form of agriculture, it requires very broad and proactive management practices to keep bee colonies alive and functioning, he explained. 

“The world also has re-awakened to the nutritional and medicinal value of honey, pollen, propolis (bee glue) and many other aspects of what’s in the hive,” Zeigler said.

Bees have three seasonal cycles. Build up, which is growing their colony population from approximately 4,000 to 6,000 in January to 30,000 or 40,000 by early May.

  Nectar Flow, which primarily occurs in mid-April through the end of June, and Dearth, which comes in July/August through year-end, which is typically a timeframe with little nectar and pollen being brought into the hive. 

According to Zeigler, the first six months of the year in Southside Virginia is the busiest time for bees and beekeepers.

Bees are a very active and thorough pollinators, he added. They work the blooms on trees, bushes, flowers and plants at just the right time to ensure the plant sets its fruit. Also, because of the thorough nature of their pollination activity, the fruit grows healthy and tasty with minimal stunting and genetic blemish. 

“Remember, with 30 to 40 thousand bees in a strong hive, they can pollinate a lot of blooms in one day,” Zeigler said.  “Many fruits and vegetables produce up to one third additional volume yield with the use of honeybee pollination.”  

Zeigler noted bees naturally bring nectar back to the hive to satisfy their needs for growing babies, making comb, energy to heat and cool the colony and provide honey reserves to nourish the colony through the winter.  

Inside the hive, the temperature remains approximately 95 degrees around the bee cluster summer and winter.

“It’s a big climate control job. Excess honey is managed with the beekeeper staying ahead of the bees with empty honey boxes placed on the hive at critical times,” Zeigler said. “This allows a well-managed operation to pull honey for the beekeeper’s use without affecting the colony’s natural needs. In times of shortage, the beekeeper provides sugar water to the colony to help the bees maintain their reserves.”

 According to Zeigler, he and Gene Riddle share the honor of currently having the most bee colonies at work in the county.

“Gene has been keeping bees for decades and is well known as ‘the beeman’ across several counties of the Southside. Gene and I both sell honey, capture swarms and remove bees as a community service. We also both provide pollination services for local farmers and help new beekeepers get started,” Ziegler said.

The beekeeping association member owns 11 apiaries across the county and has been in business for 12 years.

“I sell honey, wax, bees, provide pollination services for apples in Nelson County and Reese’s Farms in Scottsburg.  I also capture swarms and remove bees from houses,” Zeigler said. “One of my pleasures is mentoring approximately 40 new beekeepers to help them on their way to becoming successful.”