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Bee's Knees

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
“My name is Bill Shoup. I am the head beekeeper for Rice Family Beery, which is a subsidiary of Rice’s Honey. I manage and migrate the bees, put them on local yards, make sure they have the foods they need, the medicines they need. Bee management is really what it’s all about because you don’t control anything they do—all you can do is kind of encourage them. We give ‘em every opportunity to do everything correctly, and sometimes they decide to go a different direction.”

Q: What do you love about working with bees?
A: Boy oh boy. You know, I think one thing that’s really important is that when you’re in the hive, you really have to be present and in the moment. You can’t work your bees and not be there mentally. You have to drop whatever’s going on elsewhere in your life and actually focus on this. Bees sense your mood. They sense your attitude. They sense fear. So, when you release that pheromone of fear, they smell it, and they immediately come to you and fulfill that fear. My wife calls it “bee therapy.”

Q: How often do you visit your hives?
A: Every ten days to two weeks. A two-week pattern is pretty normal because in two weeks a hive can completely start to collapse. So if I’m in the hive today, I can usually tell if it’s strong or weak. If it’s leaning toward the weak side, then we start making some changes. Do I need to introduce brood from another hive, give it a boost? Do I need to put a new queen in it? Do I need to order a queen? I have local queen breeders
that I can get a queen from. Sometimes I have to go out and get a new queen and bring it back and put it in that hive. There’s all this list of things. Sometimes, the queen dies, and I didn’t notice it the first time, because she died or left just before I got there, so I look for evidence.

Q: There is a lot of discussions happening these days about bees disappearing at alarming rates. What do you think the cause of this is?
A: You have asked a very large question, so I’ll try and summarize that down to a few brief statements. Number one: Colony Collapse Disorder. That’s a hot word out there. People want to throw that around and use that as a description as to what’s going on with the hives. CCD is very vague. It doesn’t give any description of what the problem is. But, I believe colony collapse disorder is a combination of food sources disappearing and the use of pesticides, herbicides, miticides, fungicides—if it ends in the word “cide,” it means death and is not good for the bees. And that’s true whether you put it in your local garden, or whether they spray it on a crop. If the bees think they can pick it up and take it home, they will. If it’s liquid, they usually do. With those products being sprayed out there, it is a huge problem when the bees pick it up. I try to communicate with my farmers and with the sprayer applicators, to spray super early in the morning, so it has a chance to evaporate or dry, or late in the afternoon or evening so that the bees aren’t flying on the crop. And never, ever, spray that product on a blooming crop. If it’s in bloom, the bees will be all over it. Then it’s in everything. Another cause is the varroa mite. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have varroa mites here in America. Now they’re everywhere.

Q: What is something people don’t know about honeybees?
A: No honeybee is native to America. So there are native bees, but no honeybees. So if you looked up honeybees right now, you’d find a list of Italians, Germans, Russians, Carnelians. There are all these different places that bees came from. Even the Africanized bee (the notorious “Killer Bee”) is a combination of an Italian
bee and a bee from Africa brought to Brazil, trying to find the best of both of those. People are constantly trying these new combinations, these hybrids, to make the better bee—a bee that is good at making honey and good at surviving. One reason we don’t have Africanized bees around here: they can’t survive the cold. The cold in the winter time kills them off.

Q: Do the Africanized bees (“killer bees”) make tasty honey?
A: They make really amazing honey. The problem is you can’t work around of them—they’re too aggressive. If you’re within a hundred yards of their hive, they’ll attack you.

Q: They can’t be bred them to be less aggressive?
A: Well the problem is that the Africanized strains are a wild strain. So it’s not a controlled strain. Some of the beekeepers down in Arizona and south Texas will just suit up and deal with it. The problem is, you can’t put them anywhere near people’s houses. I have four hives in my backyard! My grandkids are out there playing
around them right now. I don’t have any problem with the bees being aggressive. But you can’t do that when you have the Africanized bees.

Q: For those of us with bee-anxieties, should one get swarmed by bees, what do you suggest they do?
A: Get in your car, crank your air conditioner on high, and crack your windows. It’s the only trick I’ve ever found to get angry bees off of me. They don’t like the cold. People talk about rolling in mud, diving in water, all of that. I’ve tried some stuff in the past where I was working the bees, and it was a hot day, and I thought, “I’m just gonna walk off about a hundred yards, sit down and relax for a minute, enjoy some water or something.” And I could not get the bees off me. They were so mad that I was harvesting honey. I literally had to go in my hot truck, crank that AC on high, and sit there for about five minutes while they finally got tired of getting cold air
blown on them.