Lauterbach: Don't spray the bees, please

Special to The Idaho StatesmanJanuary 3, 2014 

There are a lot of ways you can start beekeeping in the Treasure Valley and help boost bee populations.

Much of our food - fruit and vegetables - comes courtesy of the hard work of honeybees. They're not the only pollinators in our world, but they're the most efficient.

Honeybees were not native to America, but were an intentional, fortunate introduction by early settlers. Now, honeybees in most parts of the world are in trouble. They need help.

Long-lasting pesticides are killing honeybees and so are varroa and tracheal mites and other predators.

Parasitic varroa mites are attacking honeybees and their larvae in this valley. Control of those mites is very difficult, because pesticides also kill the honeybees.

Here in the Treasure Valley, you can become a beekeeper, helping bees and helping yourself by improving the pollination of your crops. Harvesting honey is a sweet bonus. Bees can roam up to about four miles in search of food, but closer is better.

Boise School District's adult education is offering a one-night course in beekeeping for a cost of $18.50. The course will be offered Feb. 5, 12 and 20, and registration will begin January 5.

Chad Dickinson, president of the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club, said after the initial setup, a beekeeper should inspect the hive every two to three weeks during the foraging season, and feed them sugar water and pollen patties in spring and fall. It's not a time-consuming operation, and expenses are not significant compared to the honey you'll get to keep and the more abundant fruit and vegetables supplied by correct pollination.

The club will hold free classes to show new members how to put together hives from a kit that costs about $200. If you want a veil, jacket with a veil or full coveralls with veil, the cost is more. Or you can hire beekeepers with that equipment to harvest your honey.

You can buy what they call a "Nuc," (perhaps short for nucleus) of a hive for $100 to $125, a box with four frames that has a brood in the comb and a few pounds of worker bees, all daughters of the queen that is included.

Or you can buy a package of worker bees that weighs 3 to 5 pounds, and a queen bee in a mini cage. You can buy all equipment locally, avoiding shipping costs, and rent a honey extractor if you're a member of the club.

Dues are $10 a year, and the club meets on the third Tuesday of most months at the Idaho Outdoor Association, at the corner of Brazil and Wright streets.

D&B Supply stores will also carry bees and beekeeping equipment this year.

The cheapest way to go is to capture a swarm, but you should know what you're doing and have proper equipment to protect yourself.

Some members of the club will collect a honeybee swarm at no charge if it's easily accessible outdoors. Incidentally, if you see a swarm, go to www.idabees.org and click on "Swarms," which will lead you to a person in your area who can collect the swarm.

Please do NOT spray them with an insecticide. The bees are waiting for scouts to find a new home for them, and they may be pretty mellow while they wait. Introducing a swarm into a hive with a queen unfamiliar to them may result in the death or loss of the queen, necessitating purchase of a new one.

Another way to go is to hire a beekeeper to install and tend a hive in your yard. The cost is $175 a year, and you get the benefit of added pollination and split the honey harvest with the hired beekeeper.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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