For the past 20 years, Gary Shilling has been an active beekeeper, with some 80 hives
in suburban northern New Jersey. Gary’s friends have reaped the sweet rewards of
Gary’s labor with annual gifts of honey. And readers of his INSIGHT newsletter are
likely familiar with Gary’s beekeeping activities through his frequent references
to his hobby throughout the newsletter and in particular, his backpage “Commentary.”
Tour Gary’s hives with Business Insider.
Business Insider recently visited Gary at his Short Hills, New Jersey home to talk
about the economy and Honey Bees. Click here to take a video tour of the hives with
Another Bear Raid - unlike those on Wall Street, this one really hurt Gary as a bear
broke into one of his bee yards in October 2012.
Honey Bees recently swarmed in the backyard of Gary’s Short Hills, New Jersey home
prompting him to take pictures and write a few words on the process below.
A bear managed to break through the gate and into one of Gary’s New Jersey bee yards.
The following are some pictures documenting the damage outlined in Gary’s “Commentary”
in the January 2012 INSIGHT.
In the April 2012 issue of INSIGHT, Gary’s Commentary was titled, “Report From The
At the end of the movie Ulee’s Gold, the Florida beekeeper visits his son in jail.
The boy asks, “How are the bees?” and Ulee ticks off a long list of maladies before
concluding, “The bees are fine.”
Only a beekeeper can appreciate that comment. Honeybees can survive and even thrive
under the myriad pests and diseases of recent decades, but only with careful analysis,
hard work and remedies applied at the proper times by beekeepers.
Furthermore, the beekeepers (and only non-beekeepers call us apiarists) have to contend
with uncontrollable weather. This past winter was unusually warm in the Northeast—
that’s the good news. In a good year, 10% to 15% of my hives die over the winter.
Cold weather per se doesn’t kill them, but magnifies the effects of whatever problems
Warm winter weather was also the bad news. There are lots of native bees, wasps,
hornets and bumblebees and they all hibernate. So they only make enough honey to
feed their larva during the breeding season. Honeybees don’t hibernate and that’s
why they make honey—to get through the winter when there’s no nectar. They’re in
a cluster in the hive, bisected by the frames of honey they’ve laid up, and eating
their way through those stores.
They're also working fools. As long as nectar is available, and there’s a place
to put the honey, they make more than they need for the winter. So the beekeeper
leaves them enough to eat until spring nectar is available—about 60 lbs. per hive
in my area—and takes off the rest.
In this warm winter, the temperature sometimes exceeded the 57oF level that induces
the bees to break their cluster and leave the hive in search of nectar. None was
available yet, but the bees burn a lot more energy flying than resting in their cluster.
Consequently, they might run out of winter stores and starve.
So winter feeding was necessary this year, but not with sugar syrup in the plastic
tanks I have installed in the hive. The weather wasn't warm enough for the bees
to reduce the water content in the syrup to honey levels by evaporation, promoted
by fanning their wings. Instead, I gave them slabs of fondant, cake decoration made
of powdered sugar and vegetable oil that I buy in 50 lb. cubes from a bakery supply
house and slice up with a hot machete.
This proved to be worth the time and expense, and only 2 of my 76 hives died over
the winter. But the warm weather also induced early brood expansion. The single
queen in each hive, really just a laying machine, normally starts to work in late
January or February and a good queen can lay 2,000 eggs per day and expand the population
of adults that emerge from the hexagonal cells 21 days later from 10,000 to 15,000
bees in the winter to 50,000 to 60,000 by May.
But warm weather induced early royal starts and the risk of early swarming. That’s
nature’s way of creating new bee colonies. Entomologists aren’t entirely certain
but they think that when a hive gets crowded, the female worker bees can’t smell
the queen’s pheromones, scents that help regulate the colony. So they make a new
queen and before she emerges from her queen cell, the old queen and about half the
colony take off in search of a new home.
They form a swarm, often on a tree branch, and scouts fly off in search of a new
home, perhaps a tree knothole high enough off the ground to avoid predators or maybe
between the walls of your house. Even if the beekeeper catches the swarm, it won’t
stay in the old hive, and neither the old hive nor the new one he creates from the
swarm will produce much honey that year.
So, discouraging swarming is important and with the warm weather, this became a late
March rather than a mid-April project. It entails reversing the two 9-5/8 inch deep
full-depth hive bodies the bees live in year round; adding supers, the shallower
boxes on top I hope they’ll fill with honey for me and you; and removing frames of
brood if they’re really on a reproducing rampage. The goal is to give them lots
of space and distract them from swarming.
This three-day trip to the bee yards by me and my excellent assistant, Randy Gerling,
also involves releveling the hives, which sit on concrete blocks, replacing rotted
boxes and those in need of paint, and applying six different medications, without
which the hives would soon be dead. But rest assured, the effects are long gone
before the bees make the honey we eat.
Despite all the time and hard work, I thoroughly enjoy the physical exercise and
mental challenge of beekeeping. Are you interested in joining me?
Swarming is the way that honeybee colonies naturally reproduce. Entomologists aren't
entirely sure what triggers it. Maybe with a rigorous queen laying up to 2,000 eggs
per day, the hive gets so crowded that the worker bees can't smell the queen's pheromones,
scents she emits that help regulate the hive.
In any event, the worker bees make a new queen by feeding female larvae extra royal
jelly, a substance secreted from their heads. Then before the new queen emerges,
the old queen and about half the bees leave in search of a new home. The swarm often
congregates on a limb a short distance from the home hive, as shown by the pictures
of a swarm resting on one of my pear trees at our residence in Short Hills, N.J.
on April 30.
While waiting on the limb, scouts search for a new home, perhaps a hollow tree knot
hole or between the walls of a house, usually 20 to 30 feet off the ground to evade
predators. Bee hives sit on the ground for the convenience of beekeepers, not bees.
Scouts compete with each other to find a suitable location and recruit other bees
to take a look. Then at some point, the whole swarm decides on a new location and
heads for it.
My wife called me at my office on Monday, April 30 to report a lot of bees flying
around the back yard. When I arrived at 5:00 p.m., the swarm in the pictures had
formed. I sprayed it with sugar syrup to temporarily impede flying and keep the bees
busy eating the syrup. Then I shook the swarm into a big cardboard box and dumped
the bees into an empty hive. I was lucky that the swarm was at shoulder height and
on a thin limb I could shake to drop the bees into the box. Normally, the swarm forms
about 30 feet off the ground on an unshakable 8-inch diameter tree trunk.
So now I have two hives instead of one. But with fewer worker bees in each out gathering
nectar in the last seven days of their four-week lives, I won't get much honey from
either hive this year. In late March, I rearranged the hive boxes to discourage swarming,
but the unusually warm early spring weather encouraged fast hive-build up and swarming.
I knew I had further anti-swarming work to do, but April was a very busy month in
the office and on trips to visit clients. Alas, I still have a day job.