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Local beekeeper feels that honeybees are crucial for human life

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By PETER SAWYER

 Martin Trowbridge got his first glass beehive when he was nine years old. When he came home from school he would watch the bees work. For Trowbridge, beekeeping is a family tradition.

“My grandfather and my father were both beekeepers,” Trowbridge said. 

Trowbridge is an electrician, but beekeeping is his passion. Trowbridge has been beekeeping since he was 21. He raises bees, collects swarms and removes bees from people’s houses and from trees.

“It is something I really love and enjoy doing,” Trowbridge said, “I really love being with my bees every day. Being around bees and watching them work, it’s an amazing feeling.”

Trowbridge believes honeybees are crucial to human life.

“Scientists said if honeybees were to die today human life would last four years,” Trowbridge said. “We need them, we cannot live without them. Period. Honey bees are the most important insects we have in this world, and we cannot live without them.”

Most likely there are 100 items in the average house that exist because of honeybees, Trowbridge said. One of these items is the wood the house is made of. One third of the food people eat in some way comes from honeybees, Trowbridge said. Some of the only substances people don’t owe to the existence of honeybees are water, metal, plastic and Styrofoam, Trowbridge said.

A beehive can weigh between 200 and 250 pounds, and is about 9 and 1/8 inches deep, Trowbridge said. Thirty thousand to 70,000 bees live in a hive, which is busier than the world’s biggest airport, Trowbridge said. 

“They’re (bees) a working force,” Trowbridge said.

Once a worker bee is hatched, it only lives six weeks. It doesn’t eat, and works around the clock until it dies, Trowbridge said. The worker bees gather nectar from plants into their honey pouch, and bring it back to the hive where it is stored. Nectar is a form of glucose and dextrose. Nectar becomes honey when the bees add water. The water is evaporated, and glucose, or pure honey is left. Honey is good for people, and can be used as a medicine, people can cook with it, and local honey can help with allergies because bees gather pollen and nectar from local plants, Trowbridge said. The bees also gather pollen. Pollen is gathered in their hind legs. The pollen is mixed with honey to make honey bread. This is what the young bees eat. Worker bees also gather water and propollis, which is used to glue the cracks inside the hive. Bees produce their own wax.

Beekeepers rob, or harvest, surplus honey from bees.

In the spring, when the dandelions begin blooming, the beekeepers check the queens to make sure they are laying eggs. Dandelions are the first sign of high protein pollen. The bees bring it back to the hive, and the queen begins laying eggs.

“She’ll lay her eggs according to how much pollen comes in,” Trowbridge said.

The beekeepers also check for mites and beetles, looking at the frames, which is where the queen lays her eggs. If the mites and beetles are in low numbers, they close the hive back up and leave it alone. When the first fruits of the spring bloom, that’s when the beekeepers go back to the hives to check if the young bees are hatching. They make sure the queen has a good brood, or egg, pattern. The brood pattern is the distribution of eggs throughout the hive or frame. A good pattern is an even distribution of eggs from left to right. If the pattern isn’t good, there is something wrong with the queen. She may not be mated right, or something may be wrong with her, Trowbridge said. This leaves the beekeeper with two options. He or she can buy a new queen, or get rid of the queen. If the beekeeper chooses to get rid of a queen, a new one will be hatched. A young bee will be fed royal jelly, and within 21 days it will become a queen. Queens live five to six years.

After a new queen is hatched, she comes out of the hive for a mating fly. During the mating fly, the queen mates with the drones. Drones are hatched in the spring, and their job is to mate with the queen.

Sometimes hives or empty logs become overcrowded, and a new queen will emerge from the larvae. The two queens will divide the population of the hive, and half of the bees will follow one of the queens to a new location.

“This is where swarms come from,” Trowbridge said. “When they’re destined to swarm, they’re gonna swarm. They’re just looking for a home.”

There are between 20,000 and 60,000 bees in a swarm.

“This looks like a big old black tornado,” Trowbridge said. “It sounds like a big boat or train.”

Beekeepers add supers to their hives to collect surplus honey. The super goes on top of the hive, and within a few days the bees are in it making honey. 

“A true beekeeper will never go into the actual true heart of the hive and get honey from there,” Trowbridge said. “That is the bee’s honey.”

Once the super is 3/4 the way full, it is removed, and a new one is placed on top of the hive. Then the original super is placed on top. Once they are full, they are capped with wax. It is then ready to be jarred.

When beekeepers rob the hives depends on the year.

“The honey flow this year is beautiful, it’s great,” Trowbridge said.

There has been the rightThere has been the right amount of rain and not been a lot of dry periods between, Trowbridge said.

As important as honeybees are to human life, they have been in danger. Burro mites, tracheal mites and hive beetles have threatened the honeybee population. 

Burro mites, which Trowbridge compares to ticks, attack young bees, eating the juices off of them. Tracheal mites live in the bees’ lungs and windpipes, suffocating them. Hive beetles lay eggs inside the beehives. These eggs feed on the honey and wax. Some colleges, such as the University of Tennessee, the University of Pennsylvania and Florida State University, have gotten involved in finding medicines to help the honeybees. These temporary medicines are FDA approved, and help lower the numbers of mites and beetles in hives.

But chemicals are another problem for honeybees.

Farmers spray chemicals on the plants where bees collect nectar and pollen. The bees bring these chemicals back to their hives where they are stored during the winter, and it kills them because all they have to eat is poison honey.

While the poison isn’t enough to harm the people who eat it, it destroys the bees, Trowbridge said.

“We’ve got to stop,” Trowbridge said. “If we don’t, we’re not just destroying the bees, we’re destroying ourselves.”

Trowbridge encourages farmers to use hot pepper on plants instead of chemicals.

“Spray your flowers, spray your vegetables with it,” Trowbridge said.

“I wish everyone would start using hot pepper,” Trowbridge said. “It’s not something that’s gonna start happening right away. A few people’s changing their ways and going green, getting away from (the) pesticides is going green.”

Trowbridge is the president of the Campbell County Beekeeper’s Association, which has been in operation since January. The CCBA meets at the Wells Spring Community Center. Their meeting times are posted in the newspaper. 

“We’ll help you get started,” Trowbridge said, “Anybody is welcome.”

Trowbridge encourages anybody interested in learning about beekeeping to attend.

“We’re wanting to get more people involved,” Trowbridge said. “We want young beekeepers. Young beekeepers are going to replace us.”

Trowbridge has a building on his property in which he wants to build three or four glass hives so people can watch bees make honey. He has also spent time teaching first grade students at LaFollette Elementary School about beekeeping. Trowbridge wants to get more involved in the schools.

Trowbridge hopes to teach the younger generation about beekeeping.

Trowbridge’s six year-old grandson, Andrew Dyke, wants to be a beekeeper. He comes to his home and looks at the hives.

“Those bees don’t bother him and he don’t bother them,” Trowbridge said.

If anybody has any questions about the CCBA they can get in touch with him at 377-5680 or email him at beekeepersofamerica@yahoo.com.