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East End News

The Secret Lives of Local Bees (Keepers)

Bees.  According to Greenpeace “Honey bees — wild and domestic — perform about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide. A single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day. Grains are primarily pollinated by the wind, but fruits, nuts, and vegetables are pollinated by bees. Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops are pollinated by bees.” –

This brings us to Church Hill.  Our neighborhood is full of residents ready to share their passions, knowledge, and gifts with others. Sarah Blackburn is one of those people: Church Hill resident and amateur beekeeper extraordinaire. She was gracious enough to connect with us and share some tips that could benefit you when and if you encounter bees on your property.

Hi Sarah! Tell us about amateur beekeeping- what got you into it?

Lots of things! 1. I love honey. 2. I keep a vegetable garden and noticed much of it was going un-pollinated (I’ve actually gone out and with a little paintbrush and pollinated squash flowers myself – having bees around is better). 3. I’ve always found bees interesting, and the act of keeping bees really cool. 4. I heard a lot of stuff about “the plight of bees” and figured keeping some in my yard could maybe help just a little. 5. I had no idea just how much work it would be 😉

What is the first thing you should do when you see a hive in your house?

First, determine what kind of hive it is.  If you have hornets, wasps, or yellow jackets a beekeeper is not going to be a good solution (call an exterminator for these pests).  However, if you do have bees of any kind call a beekeeper or reach out to a local beekeeping association.  Search on Google or a local neighborhood group like Facebook or Nextdoor for options.

In some situations, if the bees have an extensive hive in your house or the walls of your house, a beekeeper and a contractor might be required.

How do you differentiate between docile bees and more aggressive ones?

Almost always, bees that you see here in the Richmond area are NOT aggressive.  Native pollinator bees and honey bees will generally only sting if they’re being directly threatened (i.e. squashed or swatted) or you appear to be posing a threat to their home. Honey bees are particularly reluctant to sting because when they do, it kills them. If you find a bee is checking you out, the best thing to do is either hold still (they’ll likely fly away pretty quickly on their own) or walk away calmly.

What should we do if we get stung?

First, most people are not allergic to bees.  However, if you get stung and have trouble breathing, tightness in the chest, have an itchy throat, or trouble swallowing, this can be a sign of a severe reaction and you should seek medical attention immediately.  If someone has an EpiPen this should be administered immediately for potentially life-threatening reactions.  Click here for more info.

With that said, for the majority of us, a bee sting is simply an annoyance.  If you find yourself stung, the first thing you should do is leave the area (preferably go inside).  Bee stings can potentially attract other bees.  Next,  locate and remove the stinger (which will only be present if you were stung by the type of bee that dies when it stings). The best way to get a stinger out is to scrape, rather than pull. Something like a credit card works well, but your fingernail can do the trick. For some relief, if you’ve been stung, you can use your typical over-the-counter antihistamine or hydrocortisone cream.  There are also some homeopathic options like plantain weed (Google it).

How difficult (or easy) is it to collect/relocate bees?

In the case of a swarm (see picture below), you’re dealing with a cluster of bees that are looking for a home. If they’re clustered on a branch or other object it’s a fairly simple matter to shake them into a hive box and move them where you want them.

If you’re attempting to relocate an established hive (say, between some joists in your house), the degree of challenge depends on the accessibility of the space, and how long the bees have been there.  New hives are usually less complicated to remove but still time-consuming.

What are some products that people should stay away from? You’ve mentioned neonicotinoids (already sounds scary)- how bad is it?

Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides that have gotten a lot of press for their supposed connection to colony collapse disorder (where an entire colony of bees suddenly dies). The degree to which the two are definitely connected is a subject of debate, but it is generally agreed upon that this type of insecticide is bad for bees (I mean, its purpose is to kill insects).

It’s most prevalent in seed coatings and treatments used by large-scale farms, but, as such, can also be found in seeds that you’d plant in your garden, mass-produced flowers that you buy (mostly from big-box stores), and some common household insecticides (mostly Bayer & Ortho products).

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can find pesticides that are neonicotinoid-free or simply use alternate/natural methods like vinegar and salt (Google It).

What are some tips you’d like to give the neighborhood?

Learn to love weeds and to live with bugs. The pursuit of manicured lawns and bug-free spaces (largely with the help of chemicals) has done a lot to harm not only to honey bees but our native pollinators as well. Consider white clover or thyme as ground cover instead of grass, get a bat house or plant things like lemongrass to keep mosquitoes under control. Learn to love dandelions. Explore non-toxic options for weed control for areas like sidewalks (look up vinegar & salt treatment).

If you want to support bees with a place to live, but not manage a honey bee hive, look up how to build a mason bee or carpenter bee habitat. It’s simple, looks cool, and requires no regular management on your part.

Have a garden? If you’d like to help the bee population, consider learning about pollinators. This document is full of great info on how to support pollinators, specific to our region, and gives ideas on what to plant, what different pollinators need, as well as information for additional regional resources if needed. Click here to learn more.

Thanks to Sarah for her time and all the great information!

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Sarah BlackburnRoy S Drake JrLynn N Mark MartinSarah BlackburnJason S Recent comment authors

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Jason S
Jason S

Great info, learned a lot of interesting stuff from this post, has me wanting to start my amateur beekeeping career! Thanks, Sarah

Sarah Blackburn
Sarah Blackburn

Glad you found it useful, Jason! Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions: sarahblackburn820 at gmail dot com

Lynn N Mark Martin

Thank you!
He’s excited to get more babies in about 2 weeks

Roy S Drake Jr

Southern States on Williamsburg Road is offering beekeeping classes on Saturday. I believe the times are 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Roy S Drake Jr
Sarah Blackburn

They are! And for those not necessarily interested in keeping bees, there will also be local honey for sale while they’re there.