East Texas Quarterly Magazine Spring 2014 - Page 9

me the Honey Sh ow The sun casts a dull gray in the east, and frost covers the ground like diamond dust. No birds have awakened in the nearby woods, and all is still and quiet. In the faint light you can barely see white clad figures moving about, lighting smokers, and starting the day’s work in a bee yard. This is a daily occurrence for hundreds of professional beekeepers across East Texas and the entire Gulf coast to Florida. This group of modern day nomads will bring thousands of honey bee colonies from Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota, and other points north, down to our area in November each year. You’ve probably seen large 18-wheelers carrying several hundred boxes, all under heavy netting. Those colonies of honey bees were loaded during the night and trucked non-stop through the darkness. Even a brief delay could cause the packed bees to overheat and die. They arrive at a remote site in a carefully selected pasture, and the crew begins unloading and setting out boxes. For the next five months, bees will be fed, dusted for foulbrood, treated for Varroa and tracheal mites, and checked for Nosema disease. With this care, bee populations explode, reaching 60 to 80,000 bees per colony. This growth allows beekeepers to make “splits.” By separating the 10 frames from each box into five 2-frame boxes, and adding a queen to each, they will get five new colonies from the original. In addition to having typically mild winters, East Texas has one other advantage over the rest of the state-early pollen production, which stimulates the queen into laying more eggs. Bees take advantage of elm and red maple blooming early in January. Then follow holly, black gum, willow, yaupon, blackberry, white clover and privet. Colonies expand until one night in April or May when they are loaded for the long trek back north. They arrive at full strength just as the honey flow begins. It might be clover