Apiarist expounds the wonders of bees Beekeeper heads county association NORTH -- Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

February 03, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

Who you gonna call -- if a swarm of bees has nestled next to your front door and you want it evicted?

If you live in Carroll County, chances are you would call Stephen McDaniel.

The Manchester beekeeper is president of the Carroll County Beekeepers Association, a group of about 80 local apiarists, age 8 to 95.

Mr. McDaniel, 45, and a photographer by trade, gets as many as 70 calls a year from county residents who want swarms of honeybees removed.

The association also helps beekeepers learn more about their art and educates the public about bees, Mr. McDaniel said.

"It's amazing how little people know about bees," he said.

The group meets at the Hashawha Environmental Center north of Westminster. Once a year, in March, it offers a short course in beekeeping.

Last year 70 people attended, Mr. McDaniel said.

Many of the association's members are fascinated with the social life of honeybees.

Honeybees communicate with a language of dance. If a bee comes back from a flight and dances in a figure eight, it means there is pollen or nectar more than 50 yards away.

The exact distance depends on how fast the bee wiggles its backside.

If the flowers are closer, the bee dances in a circle. Mr. McDaniel said the round dance tells the other bees, "Just go out there. It's close."

The bee signals the direction by aligning the figure-eight at a given angle with reference to the sun.

One teaspoon of honey represents the life work of 12 bees, Mr. McDaniel said. A hive can house 50,000 bees.

"Bees are just so beautiful," Mr. McDaniel said.

He said honeybees are gentle, nonaggressive creatures and should not be confused with yellow jackets or other wasps.

Mr. McDaniel now keeps five hives of honeybees on the 2 acres surrounding his home, plus a demonstration hive with glass sides that he takes to public displays.

the glass hive, a mass of worker bees vibrates to produce enough body heat to keep the bee larvae at 92 degrees Fahrenheit. The glass is warm to the touch.

Usually, Mr. McDaniel keeps about 12 hives, scattered around at several sites. But for several years, honeybees in the area have been infected with mites that get into the bees' breathing tubes and kill them.

"I've had several hives die within the last two weeks," he said.

Bee stings aren't a major problem for the beekeeper.

Mr. McDaniel said that if the job is done right, the keeper isn't stung often.

He said he gets stung about once a month, often by a stray bee that has gotten lost, unnoticed, in his armpit or some other unexpected place.

"The main thing is to be gentle with them," he said.

Mr. McDaniel said people with stressful jobs often find beekeeping therapeutic.

If you aren't calm around bees, he said, they let you know about it.

"They make you slow down and take it calmly and gently," Mr. McDaniel said. "They enforce a slow pace."

Most of the association members are hobbyists. "You can make a little money" keeping bees as a sideline, Mr. McDaniel said. Beekeepers sell honey or candles made of beeswax.

And they rent entire hives to farmers to pollinate crops.

But in Maryland, beekeeping isn't done on a large commercial scale. To make a living at beekeeping, Mr. McDaniel said, an apiarist needs 1,000 to 2,000 bee colonies.

One problem, he said, is that Maryland beekeepers can't compete with the price of imported honey. Chinese honey has been selling in the United States for as little as 32 cents a pound, half the price of American honey.

Mr. McDaniel said honeybees' main value to the Maryland public is crop pollination. "You can't import pollination," he pointed out.

For example, without bees, apple trees won't make apples. That's why beekeepers are paid to move their hives into orchards on the exact days when the apple blossoms open and the bees' services are required.

"It's hard, heavy work," he said, but not that complicated. Bees come home at night, Mr. McDaniel said, so the beekeeper waits until they've all turned in before moving the hive.

"If you do it right," Mr. McDaniel said, "you don't even encounter one bee."

On the other hand, he said, if you drop the hive, "you could encounter a whole lot."

Mr. McDaniel said many people get into beekeeping because of a love of nature.

Other county beekeepers, he said, keep bees for medicinal purposes. Some people say bee stings can relieve arthritis pain.

However, Dr. Marc Hochberg, professor of medicine in the rheumatology division of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said there are more than 100 kinds

of arthritis, and bee stings are considered an unproven remedy.

Controlled tests of the effectiveness of bee venom treatments have not been done, he said, and he doesn't recommend that people get these treatments.

Mr. McDaniel draws a distinction between "bee havers," who get a beehive and leave it to its own devices, and "beekeepers," who look after their tiny livestock.

A beekeeper likes to go out and look at his bees, Mr. McDaniel said. He or she can tell their mood by watching how they move and listening to the tone of their buzz.

He said, "A beekeeper likes to hear his bees once in a while."

The hobby keeps his interest, he added.

"The more you learn, the more questions you have."

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