By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.- The library is the place to “bee” this month.
Tom Roberts, township resident and beekeeper, will present “Bee There or Bee Square” 7 p.m., July 27 at the library, 304 South St., in a program that offers attendees a look into the world of honeybees, insects that he has been caring for since 1981.
“I wanted homemade honey and I’ve always been interested in the out-of-doors and different crafts and older skills like hunting, fishing, blacksmithing and all this stuff,” said Roberts. “I read about beekeeping and tried it. I invested a couple hundred, got some beehives, and fell in love with it.”
Roberts won’t bring with him any of the 60,000 to 80,000 bees he currently has, but he will bring hives, beekeeping equipment, photos, and a passion for sharing his hobby.
He hopes that more people will take up the hobby, as beekeepers are needed.
“The number of beekeepers has been going down steadily since World War II,” said Roberts. “The number is starting to rebound though, there is a lot of interest in making sure that honeybees survive.”
Some of the challenges for bees include a tracheal mites and varroa mites, both of which have killed bees in large numbers over the past two decades.
Each spring, Roberts buys bees from down south. This year, he bought about 10,000 for his beginning colony, which has since exploded by more than 50,000. The challenge is getting them to survive the winter. Last year, he lost all his bees. In starting over, he introduces bees to a hive, feeding them a heavy solution of sugar water, an artificial nectar source. Once they become acclimated to their home hive, they will fly out and find their own sources of nectar and pollen. Meanwhile, he keeps a queen bee isolated until the worker bees acclimate to her smell. Once that happens, she is introduced to them, begins laying eggs and the population of bees increases dramatically. Roberts adds boxes on top of his five hives, giving the bees a place to store the honey they make.
“Once they put away enough food— 70-80 pounds of honey for the winter in the main hive, everything else they store— which can be up to 300 pounds of honey in a good season— I get the extra,” said Roberts, who uses a simple centrifuge process to spin the sweet treat out of the honeycomb.
He loves honey, eating it on toast, with vanilla ice cream, and using it in baking. He also sells some honey, which covers his beekeeping costs. The honey is usually sold out by Christmas.
Beekeeping, he said, is not too labor intensive if you just keep one or two hives, with a keeper needing to check the hives perhaps three times a month, spending 15-20 minutes each time. For those who have an interest in bees, the program is a great place to get an introduction to beekeeping.
“I just love getting into the beehives, and I like watching them work, they are incredibly industrious,” said Roberts, adding that he is rarely stung as the bees are incredibly docile. “When you get into hives, it’s an amazing sight to watch them work and to smell them— they have a pleasing odor about them. They’re a fun, interesting organism.”
For more information, call 248-627-1461 or visit www.brandonlibrary.org.
By Susan Bromley