Beekeeper – Kenny Reed

It all started around 1997. I was very interested in honeybees because I had planted some citrus trees that I had high hopes for! I bought a beehive from an old beekeeper at a bee meeting in Conroe, Texas. He delivered that hive of bees to me… I knew absolutely nothing about bees. But, I became so interested that every day after work I would get home, light a smoker and open the hive…. Being careless, I must have injured or killed the queen and that hive went queenless and eventually died. That was the beginning for me…. I later went to work for a local beekeeper and spend one year learning as much as I could.

One day at work, I met a commercial beekeeper from Canada. He was buying 3000 packages of bees from the company I was working for. It was after 5 PM and everyone had gone home for the day. I waited for this man to arrive so I could help him load his packages of bees onto his truck. That was a lot of bees! It so happened that that was “the” meeting of a lifetime! This man was relocating his commercial beekeeping outfit from Canada to Texas! And, from that day Don taught me so much … not only about bees but about life… He became my mentor and opened many doors of opportunity for me. I could never re-pay him for that!

I continued learning and working hard, I quit my full time job with FEDEX and was increasing the numbers of colonies I had. I traveled all over making honey… and selling it! The ball was rolling! The bees were relatively easy to manage and I enjoyed what I was doing.

It was now 2010, I had became involved in the breeding and propagation of the Russian honeybee program. The Russian Bees were supposed to be hygienic bees that could manage the varroa mite exceptionally. So I spend 3 years trying to grow the number of colonies I had… One day, I finally realized that the hopeful 3 year ‘trial’ with the Russian bees had left us disappointed and going downhill fast… with absolute certainty as one of the selected breeders for the Russian Queen Breeders Association, the Russian bees did not work well for our business plan! Their characteristics and traits were NOT ACCEPTABLE. The Russian bee’s characteristics for being able to produce a strong bee hive in early Spring was too slow and unimpressive at best. The “claims” of mite resistance was not measurable… in fact, I found just the opposite to be true…the Russian bees seemed to harbor curly wing virus and other brood related aliments that is carried and spread by the varroa mite infestations. In other words, if you have mites, you may harbor viruses and low level manifestations of disease especially if the bees are not kept healthy. Our Russian bees were not healthy and NEVER THRIVED!

They were typically temperamental, too mean and too aggressive for me to consciously promote them to beginning beekeepers, hobbyists and my valued customers. Hobby beekeepers with children were having difficulty with the Russian bee’s testy and aggressive nature making it impossible for children to enjoy learning how to keep bees. Since I spend so much time in bee yards, I was forced to order custom made stingless coveralls so I could get my work done without getting stung continuously. I remembered the years when I could work in a bee yard and never get stung…. I missed that! Additionally, here in Southern Texas, we depend on strong colonies for early honey production, our goals were unequivocally not achievable with the Russian bees. So, the decision was made to leave the Russian bee program and replace it with a bee that would thrive and stay healthy!!! So, in 2010 we totally migrated out of the Russian program.

I had to turn and go and grow in an opposite direction….. So, when it can time to choose my new breeder queens to begin this transition of creating my new bee “foundation”, I chose a premier queen breeder, Dr. Joe Latshaw of Latshaw Apiaries. After discussing my plan with Dr. Latshaw, I became excited again and saw EXCELLENT results the first year leaving the Russian bee program. Our queen breeding program is great and we are producing quality queens! It had been a long time since we had brood patterns like this! With the assistance and recommendations from Dr. Latshw each year, I selected the “pedigrees” that were best suited for my needs, Dr. Latshaw provided the genetics that really delivered the traits and characteristics that are important to my operation. This change out of the Russian bees back to Italians and Italian/Carniolan “Hybrids” injected so much energy and hope back into our business, I became proud of the bees again, something that had been missing for several years during the trial using the disappointing Russian bee.

Without a doubt, our colonies are more healthy, strong, and productive with these queens.

So…. it’s 2016 and what is happening to the bees?????

With neighborhood’s growing, town’s and cities getting more populated people are moving. Land is being developed and raw/natural land is being made into houses. We partner with lots of cattlemen who graze cows and have native grasses, trees and brush. When they sell the land, this all goes away. The bees must forage elsewhere….So, the loss of natural habitat does have an impact, bees are meant to have a varied diet. But some believe that honeybees are not meant to be set in a field on a farm with only pollen and nectar of one particular species (during pollination contracts). This practice of taking bees to farms to pollinate (which increases yields for farmers) has been followed for decades. Is it their diet????
Most beekeepers feed a mixture of granulated sugar and water at times, maybe during Winter months, maybe during early Spring…this is done long before the harvesting of honey takes place and is done only to keep the bees alive, NOT to “make honey”. Some beekeepers leave boxes of honey on their beehives for the bees to consume instead of having to mix sugar and water as feed… all these have been done for decades.

What about that mite?

Varroa mites are still “the” issue. They are a very difficult pest to keep under control. Beekeepers MUST treat their honeybees for the varroa mite. Whether using passive (organic or natural) treatments or, stronger chemical based miticides, these are personal choices but something MUST BE ADMINISTERED.
If left untreated this tiny mite spreads viruses and bacteria throughout the entire colony and the bees health is badly compromised…. Left un-treated, hives will die. So, this is a major factor in bee health today. The trouble is timing… once the mite infestations reach a high level the colony of honeybees may not recover. It is recommended that all beekeepers stay aware of mite levels by conducting an alcohol wash test on hives to determine if levels of the varroa mites need to be addressed. If you simply try to look for mites…. This is not advisable.

There is also another pest threatening bees…., right?

The small hive beetles are difficult and grotesque but there are management techniques and a philosophy to help manage and cope with them. Placing colonies in “full sun” will help as does keeping colonies strong heavily populated. A strong colony can keep the beetles under control but weaker colonies that are under any stressful conditions (like starvation or heavy varroa mite infestation) will not be able to keep the upper hand on the small hive beetle.

So why are the bees disappearing?

A few years ago this thing called “CCD / Colony Collapse Disorder” hit and things have not been the same for most keepers of honeybees. 
Large commercial beekeepers in the US began to notice that bees were disappearing from hives….. Bees boxes were empty… the bees were just gone…. There are still no “real” answers but many people have ideas and beekeepers are trying to keep the health of their bees as good as possible. Some beekeepers no longer go to farms to pollinate. Thinking that the use of certain pesticides (neonicotinoids) may be the problem. Some beekeepers feel that the new era of seed production and treatment (genetically modified seeds/GMO seed) may be the culprit. Both have strong cases for their opinions that may contribute to the decline of honeybee colonies and massive bee losses…. But actually, no one is sure. There are many ongoing challenges ! What we are doing is our best effort to keep our honeybees colonies alive, very healthy and thriving. This is not an easy task today…but most beekeepers are eternal optimists and are encouraged by the amazing honeybee and, will continue to push for answers while doing all they can do to maintain healthy, thriving and productive honeybee colonies!