Honey, he smoked the bees

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 20, 2007


ORBIT—When William “Billy” Bell started raising honey bees, he learned a hard lesson at the onset.

“Do not place the bee hives next to a wooded area, or you’ll be sorry,” he said with a chuckle.

Bell said he located his first two hives behind his home next to the woods and when he checked them, a bear had eaten all the honey and destroyed the hives.

He replaced the hives in a field beside his home, he added, and has had no trouble from bears since.

The retired Army Lt. Colonel started raising the bees in 1996.

He said he and his wife, Maria, who retired from the American Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services, wanted a hobby, something to fill their time at their home about six miles from Windsor.

“We just happened to see a beekeeper with his bees at the State Fair in Richmond that year and I remarked to Maria, ‘How hard can it be?’”

Bell began collecting information and purchased the recommended two hives to start with.

He now owns 16, several placed at his home and others at two other locations.

He collects the honey, processes it and sells from 300 to 400 pounds of it in a good year.

The couple does not discard any of the leftovers of this operation either.

When processing the honey is done, Maria collects the beeswax and molds it into candles.

Processing the honey is not hard, Bell said, as he explained the operation.

The cone is first placed in a decapper which removes the caps from the cone.

Cones are then placed into a machine that spins the honey from them.

The honey is then drained through a double sieve into a container.

From this, the honey is bottled for sale.

Maria said Bell saves the wax, which is melted, then set and melted again and strained.

She pours the melted, strained wax into molds, the end result being candles representing everything from the different holidays to special occasions.

“The honey bee is a critical component of our agricultural process,” said Bell.

“As honey bees visit blossoms to gather the nectar and pollen necessary for their survival, they help agricultural crops and wildlife habitats flourish.

“Simply put, the bees pollinate our crops and without it, the quality and quantity of many crops would be reduced and many would not yield at all.”

Bell said the U. S. Department of Agriculture estimates that one-third of the human diet is derived from insect-pollinated plants and that the honey bee is responsible for 80 percent of this pollination.

It also is the only insect that produces a food consumed by humans.

A typical colony will contain one queen, from 500 to 1,000 drones and from 30,000 to 60,000 workers.

Bell said workers, which are all female, sole purpose in life is to feed and take care of the queen.

“Honey is produced for the bees’ survival, of course,” said Bell.

“But a colony will normally make more honey than it needs and this is removed by the beekeeper, usually in late spring and early fall.

Beekeepers work long hours in the spring and summer, when blossoms are abundant and bees are busy, he went on.

“We monitor our hives to ensure that the colony is clean and disease free.

“In the fall, we prepare the hives for winter, making sure there is enough honey to feed the colony through the winter.”

He noted that bees will not fly when the temperature is 50 degrees or lower.

Bell, who is a Southampton County native and just happens to be the nephew of the famous former Southampton County Sheriff Boise Bell, says he enjoys his hobby.

“It’s fascinating.

Just to see what enormous good these tiny insects do is really something.”

He said there had been some talk about a disease that has been killing off the bees.

“There are a few insects and mites that are dangerous to the bees, “ he said, “but we know we just have to deal with this.

Also, there are insecticides, mosquito sprays and so on.

“This too is something we have to work with.

“But recently, one beekeeper in South Carolina said that he had 3,000 hives and a month and a half later, he had only enough bees to fill about 800.

He said the bees just left and didn’t return.

“We don’t know what caused this,” Bell said, “but the theory is that it was caused by a systemic insecticide which is absorbed by the plant and the bees ingested it.

In turn, the theory suggests that it interfered with the bees’ ability to return to their hive.”

Since it does not happen everywhere, it is logical this could be the reason the bees left., he thinks.

Bell said dozens of agricultural colleges are trying to figure out if this is indeed the problem.