Residents get lesson in keeping honeybees Fresh crop at center helps promote hobby

April 18, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The buzz in Millersville is the bees.

More than 6,000 honeybees have built hives at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center on Indian Landing Road. Tuesday night, they were joined by another 6,000 bees -- and 30 interested beekeepers who showed up to watch the state's chief apiary inspector, I. Barton Smith Jr., place the new tenants in their homes.

"It's pretty cool," said 9-year-old Sarah Lebo of Glen Burnie, who donned a camouflage hat and veil and thick gloves over her bright pink sweat shirt and blue jeans. "I think it's really neat how they make honey."

So did many of the veiled onlookers, who nonetheless were happy for the protective clothing.

"If they get under there, then you'll know the true meaning of 'bees in your bonnet.' " said Bob Radford, 42, a beekeeper from Millersville.

But the insects were more concerned with Mr. Smith, who attempted to demonstrate how to control and introduce a new swarm of bees to a foreign environment.

First, the bespectacled entomologist sprayed 3,000 of the honeybees with sugar syrup to keep their bellies full. Then, he dumped the bees into a 2-foot-high white-painted box with 10 honeycomb frames inside.

The box was missing the most important member of a colony: the queen bee. The queen is so important that she has her own separate cage adjoining the other bees' with her own supply of hardened sugar.

But the queen cannot just be released along with the other bees, Mr. Smith said.

"The queen is foreign to the bees," he said, adding that the insects have to become accustomed to the pheromones emitted by the leader.

"Each colony has its own scent."

So Mr. Smith cut a small hole in the wall of the adjoining cages and plugged it with a block of sugar. The bees and the queen will consume the sugar in a few days, enough time for the queen to be welcomed by her subjects.

Mr. Smith did the same with another package of honeybees, which were purchased by the Anne Arundel County Beekeepers Association.

Jon F. Clulow, president of the 90-member association, said the group spent about $70 for the two shipments of bees to help promote the hobby.

"We want students to learn about beekeeping, and the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center is important for this educational purpose," said Mr. Clulow, who owns 60 colonies on produce farms throughout the county. "And we want to make beekeepers better at it."

Beekeeping is an important part of the state agricultural industry, Mr. Smith said. He estimated that more than $38 million worth of Maryland crops benefited from honeybee pollination.

Insufficient pollination can result in misshapen vegetables and fruit, he said. The number of colonies has been reduced by almost half in the past 10 years by parasitic mites that prey on bees. Last year 1,134 registered beekeepers had 8,939 colonies in the state. "It used to be that you could get a bee colony and put it in your backyard and not toy with them for 20 years," Mr. Smith said. "Now if you do that, they'll die within one year."

Disease has also taken its toll. Peter Lisko said he once had as many as 15 colonies producing honey on his Annapolis property. Now, he has one.

"Bees get sick -- just like humans do," said Mr. Lisko, 77, who has been beekeeping for 25 years. Jim and Kay Castleberry of Pasadena are willing to take the risk to help produce more tomatoes in their vegetable garden and more plums from their 15 fruit trees. "We're not getting enough pollination," Mr. Castleberry, 39, said. "Thought we'd give it a shot."

And Mrs. Castleberry, who stood a few feet away from the hives while wearing a protective veil, had another reason for housing a colony of bees on her 1-acre property.

"That I can get really close and not get stung," Mrs. Castleberry said. "I like that."

Pub Date: 4/18/96

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