Georgia On My Mind…

I went to Georgia last week. That’s why I’ve been gone from here so long…I was having way, way too much fun.

Actually, I started in Alabama, at their Annual Fall meeting in Montgomery. A good crowd and some old friends. Ted Kretchman was there, the only commercial beekeeper left in the state now. There used to be a lot more, and many of them were part time queen and package producers. They’d sell 100, maybe 150 every spring to local beekeepers who wanted to requeen, or had a swarm, or had a deadout and made splits. It was easy money in those days…the days before Varroa. Or so they tell me. Sometimes the patina of time softens the harshness of reality…but it’s a good story today.

I talked to Jerry Freeman, the guy who makes all those small hive beetle traps. His bottom tray traps are pretty clever, and his plastic inside trap, the one that hangs on a frame is pretty slick, too. Sunlight, though, and lots of bees are still the two best beetle control weapons you have. But those traps aren’t bad.

After the meeting I headed over to Athens, Georgia and spent a couple of days with the University Bee Lab people there. Jennifer Berry, the in-charge girl there, Cindy Bee…bee remover extraordinaire and the grad students and helpers were all trapped inside because of the rain. So, like beekeepers everywhere they spent their time putting together new equipment. That tiresome task hasn’t changed in over 200 years it seems. Still…somebody has to do it, and there’s seldom time in April to get it done.

Jennifer, as you may know, is a queen producer herself, and has a hundred plus colonies of her own. And this year…last week…many of them were being fed. It’s been a dry, tough year for bees in the southeast, and smaller nucs…the kind used for raising queens…seldom have enough bees to gather food, take care of the young and the queen, and keep warm. Even in Georgia they sometimes need a bit of help.

After feeding bees we headed down to Moultrie to visit Fred Rossman. Jennifer is doing a story on the equipment side of his business, so check that out in a month or so, and, since I’ve never been there I just wanted to wander around and visit and look and see. We talked of many things…business growth, the difficulty of getting and keeping good help, the certain future of African honey bees in his backyard, the slow decline in numbers of queen and package producers…but the relatively stable number of queens and packages they produce that continue to flood mostly the eastern half of the U.S. Fred has a unique perspective on this whole industry, and is worth listening to, any day.

After Moultrie it was back to Atlanta to speak to the Metro-Atlanta beekeepers at the Botanical garden there…nice setting, good group…and I ate supper at a restaurant that had kangaroo on the menu. Really…kangaroo.

Well, all this seems pretty much inside the bee box doesn’t it? It’s a trip most any beekeeper would love to take…bee folks, bee places, and lots and lots of bee stuff. But there’s one tiny issue that is outside the bee box, at least kind of.

African honey bees. They are in Georgia, you know. Not many, not yet, but some, somewhere.

Let me tell you a bit about another state that has African honey bees (AHB) and routinely sells queens and packages beyond their border…Texas.

When AHB first came to Texas there was a lot of noise and fuss. Killer bees. Oh my God, we’re all going to die.

But we didn’t. And after 21 years, pretty much nobody has, from packages or queens used in, or sent from Texas at least. They don’t like hot bees in Texas and they don’t send hot bees out of Texas…well, hardly ever. But then, occasionally hot bees can come from anywhere, and have come from everywhere. Not often, but sometimes…

For awhile, Texas was doing the FABIS test to make sure the queen and package folks weren’t sending out nasty bees. Some receiving states demanded it, at least for awhile. But because of the monumental drone flooding producers have accomplished in the queen production areas, pretty much all of their European queens were mating with their European drones.  And in 21 years there hasn’t been hardly a problem. Not none, but ask Mexico about problems and where the bees are and where they can send them. They have problems. Lots of problems. We’re way, way clear of those.

It’s to the point now that receiving states don’t even ask Texas for AHB free certification…it seems everybody is cool and calm and collected regarding the temperament of Texas bees. Plus, it’s not an impossible task to find feral colonies of AHB in Texas. It’s flat, hot and open. Not too much tropical brush-like growth down there. Not, as the Texas folks like to say…not like some other states.

So…what’s the future for Georgia? Or Florida, or Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or the rest of the states that produce and sell queens and packages, and that AHB is closing in on. And seem to have a lot of tropical brush-like growth…especially Florida? Well, maybe it’s a nonevent. Maybe nobody cares…the bee producers don’t want the bees we don’t want…so they don’t have the bees we don’t want. Just like Texas. Locally there may be more issues…but as far as what’s in a bee yard? Maybe not an issue afterall.

But this is the entire East Coast we’re talking about, that’s threatened with AHB killing all their children, pets and neighbors. You have to remember that Texas producers mostly send their bees to commercial operations. Not exclusively, but mostly. And the tolerance for warm bees is a bit different in those operations than in a suburban neighborhood in Westchester, downtown New York City, Boston or Providence.

That, friends, is where this leaves the bee box…and enters politics, public perception, and the unknown.

I gotta tell ya. If I was living in one of those southeast sending states, selling bees where they sell bees, I’d be a touch concerned. And there’s more out there than just the image of AHB…’cause that’s all it probably is…an image. There are bigger worries, competitive worries. Stay tuned.