Spring honey bees work hard to find nectar and pollen

Barbara Hootman
  • Bees have to work hard in early spring to find enough rich nectar and pollen to feed the hives.
  • Honey bees are hard pressed to find enough to eat in early spring to feed the hives.
  • Honey bees hunt for nectar rich and pollen laden blooms in early spring to feed the hives.
  • Honey bees live only about two weeks, feeding on nectar and carrying pollen back to the hives.

Early spring is a critical time for bees. There has to be a supply of nectar and pollen for the field bees to work.

"The weather is the reason that we continue to feed our bees," Edd Buchanan, master beekeeper, said. "It can't be too cold, too windy, or too rainy. Also, how far the bees have to travel to find pollen and nectar makes a big difference. A field bee has only about two weeks of an active life until its wings are worn out. Each hive has from 50,000 to 60,000 bees in it, and they can eat a lot. We continue to feed our bees until around the first week of May, because there just isn't enough in nature for them."

Buchanan has had bee hives since 1965, often as many as 400. He traded a used lawn mower for his first two hives. Since then he has become the best known beekeeper in Western North Carolina.

"I am 80 years old, and have been forced to slow down a little," he said. "Currently my bees are in three big orchards in Henderson County pollinating this year's apple crop. They only stay about three weeks, then they come home and start feeding on spring blooming trees and flowers, and making honey.

"Early spring is a hard time for honey bees, because the first flowers and trees to bloom don't have a high nectar content," he said. "From now into June and July, the bees will literally work themselves to death, flying, feeding on nectar, loading up on pollen, making trip after trip. If they find food close to the hives, that makes it easier on them. Bees only live six to eight weeks, and then die of old age."

Buchanan says there won't be too many good red delicious apples this year.

"They are the first apple trees to bloom, and just as they started to bloom along came a cold snap, and the bees couldn't pollinate them," he said.

From mid-May on, bees have their choice of what they want to eat in nature.

"By the third week of May, the locust and popular trees will be in bloom, and they make good honey," Buchanan said. "Blackberry bushes will begin to bloom, and it makes good honey also. We make very little white clover honey, and it doesn't bloom until June. Throughout the summer the bees have plenty to eat.

"No one can answer the question of whether it will be a good honey season or not. It all depends on the weather, and what the bees have to eat. Home gardeners can really make a difference in feeding bees. If they plant nectar-rich blooming flowers around the edges of their gardens, the bees will feed, pollinate their gardens, and bring home pollen to the hives."

Buchanan still has a variety of honey on his front porch. If he isn't home, drop your money in the fruit jar and take the honey. A pint of honey cost $6, and 20 ounces goes for $8-$10. A quart sells for $12, and sourwood honey will sell for $15.

Eddy Buchanan, Edd's son, is also an experienced beekeeper, as dedicated to bees, honey and education about the insect as his father.

"The willows and maples have put out a lot of pollen, and the bees love it," he said. "The bees have to work hard in early spring, because the flowers don't have the nectar that the later blooming ones have. We're really close to good honey-making time, and the bees can take care of themselves."

Bob Plemmons learned bee keeping from Edd and continues with his hobby every year. He currently has five hives.

"I am still feeding my bees sugar water," he said. "If you have bees, you can't neglect them and expect them to be good honey-makers. Take care of them, and they will work hard."

Lisa Coffee is a novice beekeeper, but as dedicated as the veterans. She has a large, award-winning kitchen garden that her bees pollinate. It was the 2013 Most Beautiful Vegetable Garden in Black Mountain.

"I've only been keeping bees for one year," she said. "The bees are wonderful teachers, and I learn from them every day. I have three hives and haven't harvested any honey yet, because the bees need it.

"One of the most important things the average person can do to help the bees is to stop spraying their yards with pesticides."

Bee whisperers

Master beekeeper Edd Buchanan can be reached at 669-8936. Beekeeper Bob Plemmons can help with bee information at 230-5357.