The staff at Trinidad has recently added bee-keeping to their list of ongoing projects.
This beekeeping venture is the brainchild of Kyle Sisco, natural resources specialist, Trinidad Lake. Sisco has been researching beekeeping for quite a while. He consulted the Natural Recourses Management Gateway website – a main reference utilized by USACE rangers in the field. The NRM outlines USACE policies regarding Pollinator Protection and Enhancements. The NRM states that that bees grown on federal land can only be utilized for pollination. The honey produced is strictly for the bees to consume in order to keep the hive going.
“Hives are a great way to start a pollinator garden,” said Sisco. However, he noted, that since the bee population is declining world-wide, it’s also a great way to help save them.
He also sought advice from Josie Terry, a local beekeeper.
“Ms. Terry told me that bees are very self-sustaining,” said Sisco. “She advised me to just get a hive and start!” He did just that!
Prior to purchasing the bees, specific preparations had to be made. Building hives was the first step.
“Bees are pretty self-sufficient,” said Sisco. “Once you get them started, they will take care of themselves.”
Sisco then reached out to the local community for help with beekeeping. Luckily, Bobby John Terry, the 13-year-old son of the local expert beekeeper, and the winner of the state award for best honey, volunteered to as-sist. Together he and Sisco built the beehives by hand. They then installed dog kennels around the outside of the hives, providing a protective fence to keep bears and other predators away.
The hives were strategically placed at two different locations on the dam property.
“It is very important that the hives be placed in an environment with a water source, food and plenty of shade,” said Sisco. One hive was placed just be-low the dam; the other on the west side of the lake.
Now, with the hives prepared and placed, they were ready for the arrival of the bees. The team purchased two colonies of Italian honeybees from a local store. These colonies, called a nucleus, or nucs, are small colonies that have been created from larger colonies. Typically, a nuc contains four frames, already filled with honey. Each nuc contains approximately 5,000 bees, and 5,000 brood – the bee larvae, eggs and pupae. Two of the frames are for the bees to feed on; the other two are for the brood to grow to continue to expand the hive. Each nuc also includes a laying queen. Interestingly, all the bees in each hive are related to each other, and all are related to the queen – one large extended family.
The bees were transferred to their new homes May 16, 2020.
“Installing the bees was pretty easy,” Sisco said. “We opened the boxes, took out the frames and placed them into our hand-made hives.”
Bees are very self-sufficient, even when they are first delivered. Sisco and Terry only needed to provide boiled sugar water (1:1 ratio) a few times per month. The bees must be fed until they are ready to forage for pollen in their new environment.
“It’s a good idea to feed your bees during the start of spring and end of fall,” Sisco said.
To feed the bees, Sisco dons his beekeeper suit, opens the top of the hive, and takes out the frames. It is important to disturb the hives as little as possible.
“Every time you open the hive you can potentially kill 200-300 bees by crushing them between the frames,” said Sisco.
Also, once or twice per month during the summer, Sisco inspected the hive for verona mites, the quality of the hive, the queen’s health, and the condition of the brood. He was also checking to see if the bees were preparing to swarm. Swarming is the indicator that the bees are ready to forage.
The bees did begin foraging in late summer of 2020. Per beekeeper instructions, Sisco began to cut back on the sugar water.
In October the weather began to change. Sisco increased the sugar water, to assist the bees in preparing for winter. In preparation for colder weather, Sisco and Terry installed a thermal rap around the beehive. He also placed crystallized sugar inside the hive before the bitter cold set in. This sugar will last up to two months.
“When the outside temperatures drop to about 55 degrees, the bees start gathering for winter warmth,” Sisco said.
Unlike other insects who lay eggs in the fall, and then die in the winter only to be succeeded by their young in the spring, bees are active throughout the winter. Because bees are cold-blooded, they do not hibernate. Therefore, the hive must maintain a warm temperature to keep the colony alive and allow the colony to survive.
Bees maintain their warmth through the process of clustering. They attach to each other while keeping the queen in the center. It is the bees’ top priority to keep the queen warm – at a temperature of approximately 90 degrees. This is accomplished through the bees’ shivering and wing-flapping. For survival of the species, the outer and inner bees continually switch places, maintaining constant temperature within the hive.
As temperatures continue to drop outside, the clusters tighten to create even more warmth. Bees expend an incredible amount of energy during the clustering cycle. They replenish their energy by consuming the stored honey as they continually move within the hives.
Sisco photographed the surrounding area prior to placing the hives. Next summer they expect to see improvements and new growth as a result of foraging.
“Bees are great for the environment,” said Sisco. “We are hoping that they will help pollinate the local plants and flowers.”
Sisco is also hoping the bees will help to build Trinidad’s volunteer program.
“We are hoping that more people will be interested in helping as we build more hives,” he said.