Slow and steady the key in beekeeper’s approach

AFP Correspondent

LILLY DELL, Va. (March 8, 2016) — A beekeeper who usually works with his bees not wearing a veil or protective clothing is an advocate of a slow, calm approach to his work.
Graham Dawson, who has kept bees for 40 years, worked on March 1 feeding his 31 hives during a small window of opportunity when the temperature was just right working with them.
Dawson said he has always been involved with bees because both of his grandfathers were beekeepers.
The 71-year-old Dawson is retired from the Volvo truck plant in Dublin, Va., and keeps bees for their honey.
His marketing plan entails a couple of signs near Virginia Route 100 that brings customers to his front porch.
He said he has taken his honey to flea markets and craft shows in the past but now just sells it from home.
“They’ve got their own calendar,” Dawson said of the bees.
He said if the temperature gets much below 60 degrees they get mean and hard to work with.
He works without a veil most of the time, he said, but will use a veil if the bees are acting aggressive.
He said calm smooth movements and the lack of fear help enable him to work.
When working a hive of bees, Dawson uses a smoker to drive the guard bees away so he can work on the top placing the patties of pollen.
“The honey bees are going to protect what is theirs,” he said.
It seems that fear causes a human to emit an odor that the bees can detect and that causes them to attack, he said.
The sun was breaking through thin clouds as he worked to place patties of pollen on the tops of his hives.
He said the bees in the hives would be able to detect it and work it down to close proximity to the queen bee.
By feeding the bees, usually earlier than March, the beekeeper can encourage the queen to start laying eggs, resulting in plenty of bees when they are needed in April and May.
He said the first two weeks in February are the usual time to perform this chore but said there had not been any days when the temperature was right to do it.
There weren’t any suitable days in January either.
Dawson grows a 2,500 square foot plot of sweet white clover for his bees.
He said this type of clover grows to be about five feet tall and really begins to produce lots of pollen the second year after it is planted.
It reseeds itself as well.
He said he would like to see the Virginia Department of Transportation use this plant along roadway instead of the crown vetch that is often used but does not supply pollen for bees.
His home and bee yard are located in a community at the foot of the section of Little Walker Mountain known as Cloyd’s Mountain and Dawson said he depends on the natural environment in his rural community for much of the pollen his bees use in making their honey.
He said by knowing what is blooming along the roadsides and in the fields and the color of the honey he can tell the type of honey being produced.
Some comes from locust trees, tulip poplars or the sourwood trees that grow on the mountain.
He said some years one kind of tree or plant may be blooming but not producing the needed pollen while another year it will be abundant.
He estimated bees will travel as far as three miles from their hives if pollen is not available closer.
Loss of bees in the winter is part of beekeeping, he said.
This winter he has lost six hives.
Dawson said he needs large clusters of bees in August and September to be sure they will survive the winter.
If he has some weak clusters, he will combine them to make a stronger one.
He also estimates he looses five to 10 percent of his bees to varroa mites and small hive beetles.
The beekeeper caught a break on feeding his bees March 1.
Like all agricultural endeavors, timing was a premium.
The next day snow flurries were swirling around the hives.