I will never forget the summer the bees came to the yard. A goobery mass of bees hung off a branch on the red maple tree in the backyard near the bird feeder. Everyone was called inside as the bees clung to the branch for the day. There was no playing in the yard allowed once they were found. Later in the day, every bee flew away. Life returned to normal.
Those bees were a colony of honeybees looking for a new home. The queen bee, who is the only one to lay eggs in the hive, leaves when a new queen emerges. Half of the hive leaves with her to start anew in a different location.
There is a primitive fear that people have of a mass of bees. The thought of a giant swarm containing thousands of bees in the yard is scary. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I learned how mellow a swarm of bees can be.
A new colony swarmed out of Audubon’s demonstration hive and landed on a low branch in the yard. I had heard that the bees would be pretty relaxed while they were swarming, so I set up a ladder under the swarm and took pictures from less than an inch away. The bees could not have cared less that I was there. Local beekeeper Walt Dahlgren came later that day and collected the bees with a special box and a shop-vac.
People who call Audubon to ask about bees are always asking about one of two things. Either they have a swarm in their yard that needs a new home or they are concerned about honeybees disappearing.
So many people have been interested in bees that Audubon is offering a class on beekeeping on Jan. 19 from 10 a.m. to noon. The class costs $12, but is $10 with the Friends of the Nature Center discount. The class will be taught by Dennis and Laura Lamonica, local beekeepers from Panama. Reservations for the class can be made by calling Audubon at 569-2345 or reserving online at http:jamestownaudubon.org.
The class will cover all the basics of beekeeping, from buying equipment to common bee diseases. This general class will be an introduction to a larger class that will start in the spring. This class will start with building bee hive bodies in March and walk participants through their first year of owning bees. If you want to keep bees this spring, bees need to be ordered before the end of January.
Once the hives are built, they will be set up at Audubon for the summer. For the first three weeks they are up, there will be beekeeping classes on handling bees, checking bee health and more. Afterward, classes will meet once a month or so to check on and work with the bees as well as learn more about everything from maintaining a hive and harvesting honey.
Honeybees are a European bee that was brought here in the early 1600s, along with many European crops. Apples, pears, peas and other plants were brought over from Europe as familiar garden crops. Honeybees were brought along to pollinate them.
Pollination is how pollen moves from the male part of a plant to the female part so the plant can make seeds. Pollination is how pea flowers turn into peas and apple flowers turn into apples. Honeybees help make that happen, especially for plants that are originally from the places honeybees were originally found.
Beekeeping is an ancient profession. Some beekeepers approach it like they are herding tiny, flying honey-cows. Others look upon it as something more, as if beekeeping puts them in touch with something bigger than themselves. However you look upon it, bees make one bite out of every three possible. Their services, and the services of beekeepers, are invaluable.
There are more than 4,000 different bees in North America, and more than 400 in New York state. All of these bees are important for pollination. Some, like mason bees and bumblebees, will use homes built by people. Most will not. They need room to live and native flowers for food.
Audubon will be installing a pollination exhibit this spring, opening on March 17. This beekeeping program is just one in a series of programs about how to make your yard more friendly to pollinators that will be offered in conjunction with the exhibit. Programs on butterfly gardens, pollinator gardens and more will be offered throughout the year.
The pollination exhibit is sponsored by Chautauqua Region Community Foundation and the law firm Walsh, Roberts & Grace.
The Audubon Center and Sanctuary has been connecting people with nature for more than 50 years. The center is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just east of Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren. More information on programs can be found at www.jamestownaudubon.org.