One of the most consistent questions we get is about beekeeping. I am a beekeeper and always learning about it. We asked Molly Keck to come on our show and discuss beekeeping. She taught my class and is full of good information.
Justin Hill: Hello and Bienvenido San Antonio. Welcome to The Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places, and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonion, and keeper of chickens and bees. On The Alamo Hour, you’ll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique and the best-kept secret in Texas. We’re glad that you’re here.
All right, welcome to The Alamo Hour. Today’s guest is Molly Keck. Molly is an integrated pest management program specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Did I get that right?
Molly Keck: Did. Yes, you did.
Justin: She has a master’s in entomology. You and I were at A&M at the same time. I’m ’04, but then I went to law school and you stuck around and got your master’s in entomology.
Molly: I did.
Justin: She’s a professor, adjunct professor. She teaches adult education courses, writes, presents on a wide variety of topics. I saw you do a YouTube video on murder hornets. You taught the beekeeping class that I took at the San Antonio botanical gardens. I wanted to get you on and talk about something that has consistently been one of the most common questions I get since people found out that I keep bees is a bunch of questions about that. I wanted to have you on to talk about it.
Molly: I’m happy to be here.
Justin: Thank you. We had somebody on last week talking about real in-depth media issues about San Antonio’s return to work $150 million initiative. This is going to be a much more fun discussion I think.
Justin: I always start it with just some general background information. When and why did you end up in San Antonio?
Molly: I never left San Antonio. I was born here. I’m a San Antonio native. I went to Buena Elementary, Rudder Middle School, and Clark High School. My husband is from San Antonio also. His parents are from San Antonio. My kids are a third-generation San Antonian, probably, actually, more than that because actually, my husband’s grandparents were from San Antonio as well and I’m pretty sure his great grandparents. We always joke that we don’t know where we came from. We’re just Texan. I went off to A&M. That was the only time I left San Antonio. Then because my family and life is here, this is the best place to live. We moved back home.
Justin: I’ve had a lot of people on the show and most people are like, “Me. I moved here 12 years ago, 13 years ago.” A lot of people moving in.
Molly: There are a lot of people moving in, but also if I look at the majority of the people that I went to high school with, maybe 15% left San Antonio and the rest of us came back home. When you’re born here and you’re from here, you don’t really want to leave here.
Justin: It’s great, it’s great cost of living, people are nice, and it’s a great secret place in Texas I think.
Molly: It is. It’s also a really, really good family town I think. Also, you get the small-town feel in a big city. It’s like everybody knows everybody or it’s the Kevin Bacon thing. Eventually, you’ll figure out a way that if you meet a stranger, you have some ties somehow.
Justin: When we did our beekeeping class, we did fill [unintelligible 00:03:03] I think that was at your house.
Molly: It was, yes.
Justin: You’re in the Northside of San Antonio. You also have chickens. Do you keep any other animals?
Molly: Just pets. The only livestock we have really are chicken and bees. Then other than that, dogs, cats, and a parrot. Yes, dogs, cats, and a parrot.
Justin: How many dogs?
Molly: We have three dogs, we have two cats, and we have one parrot. My dad is a vet. I’ve never not had a house full of animals. It would be very unusual not to hear animals everywhere.
Justin: I’m going to butcher all of the words wrong today. I’m going to say bugs instead of insects. I’m sure. Is he a general vet or is he a livestock vet?
Molly: He’s a small animal vet. He’s semi-retired now, but what he really did was emergency veterinarian with small animals.
Justin: I spent a small amount of time in Houston and Gulf Coast Veterinary Clinic is there. I had a friend who had an open account because apparently, people will fly their animals in from around the world for that place and you just set your account limit. I thought that was the craziest thing that you just say, “Here’s the max I’ll spend.” You’re an entomologist. What is entomology and why did you get into that?
Molly: Entomology is the study of insects. I got into it by accident I think like everybody gets into whatever their profession is. I started out school in science because my mother’s a nurse and my dad’s a vet. I really didn’t understand that there were other careers other than science. I took an undergraduate class, an elective in entomology and I just got it. It just made sense, I really liked it, and I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll stick around and get a second degree in it.” To be very honest, I got really lucky that this position opened up at the time when I was finishing up my master’s work. I was very blessed to be able to come back home and be able to stay here.
Justin: We’re going to talk a little bit about that because y’all get to do a lot of different things in your AgriLife Texas and Agro Extension program it seems like.
Molly: We do. I always say I’m like a event planner for insect stuff because I get to– like with beekeeping, I thought that a lot of people wanted to learn about it. I learned about it and then I started putting on classes. We do outreach education to the public, and then whatever industries that we support. Mine is the pest management, pest control industry. We get to listen to the public and hear what they want to know about. I talked to my friends and we have leadership advisory boards and then we base our classes on what people want us to talk about.
Justin: Some of them are taught at the Botanical Gardens, some are taught at facilities you all have around town it seems like.
Molly: We only have just our extension office and we have a very small classroom, but we have a lot of wonderful partners like the Botanical Gardens and even in San Antonio and just other groups that we work with. We can borrow their facilities or get it at a much cheaper venue cost.
Justin: Sure. The Botanical Garden one was fantastic. The classroom was great, the facilities were great, and it’s very close for me.
Molly: Yes. It’s beautiful there. They’re working on a really big event center for giant weddings for hundreds of people. I’m excited to see when they finish that, but we’re really lucky to work with them a lot on different programs and partner with them and be able to use the space because they’re even on an ugly day, it’s not an ugly day there. When you take a break, you can actually walk in the gardens. I think that makes anybody happy to see flowers.
Justin: It’s always different. Something’s always in bloom different than the last time you were there. Funny question, but do you have a favorite insect? Is there an insect that in your time, you thought this one really fascinates me?
Molly: I have different favorite insects based on different groups. If you asked me what my favorite butterfly is, I like a zebra butterfly. I still get excited when I see praying mantises even though they’re like a dime a dozen, but I get excited when I see them. There’s weird unusual insects like snake flies that get me really excited. Seeing one of them is like I say is akin to seeing a mountain lion in your backyard. It’s just they’re there, but they’re just not commonly noticed. One day one landed on my shirt and my neighbor was over and he was like, “What is your problem?” You don’t understand how exciting this is to have it land on your body.
Justin: Do we have walking sticks here?
Molly: Yes, we have tons of walking sticks.
Justin: I haven’t seen one. You did a lot of work in research. You mentioned it in the class, but I saw your CV or bio today on fire ants. What is it that drew you to researching and studying fire ants?
Molly: I got my masters in a lab. My advisor is an urban entomologist. That’s really my background. In that lab, you worked on ants, cockroaches, or termites. There was really a project that was available on fire ants, but I wasn’t really wanting to do any other insect necessarily. I studied them. Then when I got into beekeeping, I realized I studied the wrong thing. Bees were much more interesting than fire ants, but they’re both social insects and they’re– I don’t know. I just think they’re really fascinating how they’re their own little community and they work with each other so much better than humans do and there’s just a lot of interesting things about them.
Justin: I ask everybody on the show and you’re going to have a different take on this since you’re from here and been here so long. Do you have any favorite hidden gems in San Antonio, off the beaten path places that you should check out, but a lot of people don’t know about?
Molly: Oh, gosh. The Botanical Gardens, but everybody really knows about that. Mexican Manhattan is a really good one downtown. If you’re going downtown, if you’re thinking of food, my favorite place to get Mexican food is always La Fogata. I don’t know if that one’s hidden anymore, but it was at one point.
Justin: Is Mexican Manhattan getting raised? They might be tearing down that whole block I think.
Molly: I think so. I know that they were having some issues and some problems and then when COVID hit, I thought I saw some stuff on social media about having a hard time making it. I don’t know where they stand right now, but if they are still around, they are a great place to go there. To me, it’s the best Mexican food on the Riverwalk.
Justin: It’s a low bar for the Riverwalk though.
Molly: That’s true.
Justin: Are you seeing any changes here locally in our insect population? There’s a lot of discussion on climate, weather, and all those types of things. Is that relating to changes in our insect populations around San Antonio? Are we having more pests, less pests, less insects, generally?
Molly: It just depends on the specific weather that we’re having. What’s weird about insects is that sometimes when you have very wet months, you would assume that you’d have more insects, but there are some species that don’t do as well. Like ground-dwelling species will have more fungal issues that kill off the eggs. Texas and San Antonio, you cannot ever predict the weather. There’s just no telling what’s going to come out. It’s hard to know what insect is going to be a big issue. I don’t think that we have seen populations decrease at all. I think habitat destruction plays a much greater role in that than climate probably. Even just worldwide, I know The Times came out with the thing about how all insects were going to go away at some point. Our Entomological Society of America has worked really hard on trying to combat that article because there were a lot of things that were incorrect about it. It was very Doomsday and not likely to happen in the next several generations.
Justin: Okay. I really care that my yard has a lot of diversity and plants and all kinds of things. Anything normal backyard, I’m a backyard beekeeper, I guess I could say, but do you think just somebody with a backyard could do to increase the diversity of the bugs that they see in their backyard?
Molly: They could plant more flowers, and they’ll definitely see more pollinators of all different types. When you think of pollinators, you usually think bees and butterflies, but there’s lots of wasps which you may or may not want. Lots of native or solitary bees that will come to flowers, flies, beetles. There’s a lot of other species that pollinate, so I would plant color, and then just cut back on your pesticide use. People that have those mosquito misters are knocking down a huge fauna of insects that are out there and oftentimes causing more issues because they’re killing off a lot of their beneficials that kept the bad guys in check.
I’m absolutely not against the use of pesticides, I use them, we talk about, we teach how to use them properly. I’m just more of the mindset of know who you’re trying to kill, don’t just do it because you think you might have an issue. Use more of a targeted approach to know who you’re killing and do your best to do your research to figure out how to not harm the beneficial or neutral insects that are in your landscape.
Justin: We have a ton of carpenter bees, passion line or I think is what it’s called.
Molly: Are they carpenter or bumble bees?
Justin: They’re carpenter because they’re just like that hard, shiny thorax, right? That’s carpenter?
Molly: The abdomen. Yes, so no joke, this is what we learned in school. The carpenter bee has a shiny hiney.
Justin: Okay, well, that’s what I looked up because as a kid I saw we had trumpet vines and we had a ton of bumblebees, but I’ve never seen a bumblebee here in my backyard but lots of carpenter.
Molly: We have bumblebees, I had a lot of bumblebees last year, and then I’ve seen a fraction of what I saw last year. I don’t think I’ve done anything different and people say this all the time. I had so much and now this year, I don’t see anything of whatever insect they’re talking about. It’s just nature. They move on and sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don’t.
Justin: Let’s talk about beekeeping. I saw another clip you did where he just generally talked about it. What are the benefits of bees for all of us every day? Why are they important to our society.
Molly: Simply put, we wouldn’t have food or we wouldn’t have the amount of food that’s available to us. We eat a lot of grains and corn, and things like that, but even then we would have a decrease in pork and chicken and maybe not beef as much because they eat a lot of grains. We wouldn’t see a lot of meat on our tables either because those things eat fruit and vegetables also. They are not even arguably, they are hands down the most important pollinator for agricultural crops. A lot of people will argue that they’re really not that great for flowers and things but that’s what our native bees take care of.
Honeybees are super important agriculturally because they have massive numbers, and they can pollinate these huge acres of land and we wouldn’t have the Poteet Strawberry Festival if we didn’t have honeybees.
Justin: European honeybees were introduced, but before that we just didn’t, I guess have the yields of fruits and those types of things in America naturally.
Molly: Right. We also didn’t have the amount of people that we have today. Those native bees could handle Native Americans.
Justin: We hear a lot about colony collapse, and I think you talked a second ago about some articles we read how alarmist they can be. Is colony collapse something we should be concerned about on a real long term, macro level, or is that a natural thing that occurs every so many years or something?
Molly: It’s a little bit of both. We have in the past seen major declines in honeybee populations. Our honeybee population decline we’ve seen as a result of varroa mites, and when those were introduced, we just never really got our populations up enough, but I think that there are so many people that are doing backyard beekeeping. If you talk to people who are an older generation, if you talk to your grandparents, they’ll all say, “My grandparents did beekeeping.” There was a time when everybody kept bees. Then we stopped doing that when we started being more urban and suburban, and now people are doing it again.
I think we’re helping the honeybee population and helping with colony collapse quite a bit. Then there’s just other organizations that are teaching people about treating for mites and recognizing different diseases because it’s pests and diseases that caused the major decline. Colony collapse is not like one single thing, it’s a combination of eight different things really, that you see these giant collapses in huge numbers of colonies. You and I won’t see it or be able to really diagnose it in 10 or less beehives, but if somebody has hundreds or thousands of hives and they lose 10%, that’s a lot of hives, then you can say something weird happen.
Justin: Can mites just hit and knock them out that quick for someone who has that many hives?
Molly: They will if you’re not treating, or if you’re not monitoring for mites and making sure they’re in the proper threshold that they’re below the mite load that you want for that time of year, then your colonies will 100% die.
Justin: Okay. I didn’t realize this till I took your class, there’s lots of different species of honeybees and something I didn’t realize was you talked about that if you don’t requeen, your hives will likely breed with a what we used to call Africanized honeybees, which was all the fear whenever you and I were kids that people were dying by honeybees. I have one of those hives now that is what you call hot. They just cover me and they’re all trying to get me. What are some of the other species of honeybees and what’s the most common that beekeepers keep?
Molly: Well, they’re all the same species. They’re all apis mellifera, but then their subspecies or called races, which are like a hybrid of multiple species, or subspecies, sorry. There’s probably the most common one that people can get their hands on are Italian honeybees, and they’re very gentle and that’s why most people like them. Africanized honey bees are a hybrid of the Africanized bee. They bred with a lot of our European honeybees also, so it’s like a muted version of what flew in in the ’90s.
I have hot hives too and there’s some benefits to having them. If you had a little small backyard and your neighbors were close by you probably wouldn’t want those mean bees. I don’t have to take care of them very much. They find food very well on their own, their mite levels tend to be down pretty low because they say they’re more hygienic meaning they take the mites off. There’s benefits to having mean bees if you have the space and tolerance for them.
Justin: Mine are great. I have gotten stung by five or six wasps in the last few years. I’ve never been stung by my bees, except for whenever I took my glove off when I shouldn’t have so it was my fault. Whenever you mess with them though they do not like it. Let’s talk about just generally getting started, I get a lot of questions from people that say like, “Where would I even get started in that?” I’ll tell you the way I got started was I bought a nucleus hive from Gretchen and I had no idea what I was doing. I put them in a box in my backyard and I am sure that is not the right way, but three years later, they’re a very, very vibrant and strong hive. What’s the best way to start instead of just throwing them in your backyard like I did?
Molly: Well, I think you got lucky because I did the same thing, and I wasn’t that lucky and they died. I’d say–
Justin: What killed them?
Molly: Me, I’m sure I didn’t feed them when– I didn’t recognize and I didn’t know when they needed to be fed. I’m sure they had mites, just combination of things. It was very hot and dry that summer and I know they didn’t have a water source close by either. I would just say tell people to take a class somewhere, take a class, do some research, read a book. There’s lots of YouTube videos. Just ask people join your local beekeeping club, get information from other people that are beekeepers, and learn from their mistakes so that you don’t necessarily have to make them yourself.
Justin: Texas A&M Agrilife Extension puts on a class, how can people find out information about that?
Molly: We do put on a class. There’s lots of other people that put on a class too. If you don’t like what we say, then go to somebody else and keep learning from others. I have actually done an online class that people can pay for and watch on their own. It’s not live, it’s pre-done, and you can find that at agrilifelearn.tamu.edu. I’m hoping that in the springtime we can go back to doing face to face programs because those are much more enjoyable, at least for me and I think they’re more valuable as far as learning to bee keep because you can touch and feel and we can do a field day so you can get the hands-on experience and everything. You can find that information on our website. I would just google honestly, Bexar County AgriLife. I think our website is BX as in Bexar dash tech– I think it’s Bexar, I’m sorry, bexar-tx.tamu.edu. That’s what it is.
Justin: Who other than AgriLife puts on in-person classes in San Antonio?
Molly: Well, in San Antonio proper, I’m not really sure but there might be some like at the Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne that they might put on. I know that Gretchen has started doing their face to face classes again. They’re just super-duper limited sizes and they’re in Seguin. I did learn. She told me that they’re not doing nucs anymore, so we can’t get our nucs from them but you can do–
Justin: They’re not?
Molly: No, they’re not. They’re focusing on– I’m sorry?
Justin: Did they say why?
Molly: She wants to focus on or they want to focus on honey, wax, and then just it got too big. They had way too many hives so they’re trying to cut down. He is a pastor now so I think that takes up a lot of his weekends, getting ready for that. They’re getting older and they want to make it a little smaller. Gretchen does classes, BeeWeaver in Navasota does classes. I believe that The Bee Place which is in Somerset area I think does classes and there’s lots of others. That’s just in our immediate area that I know. Of course, Navasota is not that close, but also the Alamo Area Beekeepers Association will do a field day in the spring, I believe and who knows if that’s going to happen, but that’s another class that you could attend.
Justin: Somebody wants to get involved. Somebody bought me The Beekeepers Encyclopedia. Maybe it was the old school like big book. There’s books, there’s classes, there’s online videos. What kind of equipment do people need if they want to get involved? We’ll talk about bees in a second because now I know I have no idea how to get them either. What kind of equipment would people need for a base level starting of a backyard beehive?
Molly: You need a suit and you need gloves and I would recommend a full suit until you’re comfortable around your bees before you start just using like a jacket or a veil. I would get a vented suit because it’s hot and vented suits give you some airflow. A little more expensive but way worth it. Then you’ll need a box to put your bees in. You need different sized boxes usually, a bottom and the top that goes on it and when you order from a supplier from a catalog, those usually come as kits. Then you’ll need a smoker and a hive tool. You can get other stuff too but those are the minimum things.
Justin: Some of the beekeeping locations like beekeeping supply stores, you can buy everything in one, your suit, and everything in a box and hive tool and all of that in one package?
Molly: You can. I’ve even seen bee equipment now you can order through Tractor Supply or you could order it on Amazon. I mean there are so many different places to get equipment and stuff now than there was 12 years ago when I got started. I could only look through a catalog and decide what I wanted.
Justin: Okay, so now somebody is taking their class, they’ve got their equipment, now where do we get bees if Gretchen don’t do it anymore?
Molly: I honestly I’m not really sure. Gretchen has told me that they have some local beekeepers around them that are going to start growing their apiaries and splitting their hives and they’re going to share that with me when they know so I’m sure you could call them and ask, “Where can I get nucs?” I guess I’m just hoping that some people around us that do beekeeping will have five nucs to sell and it’ll become like a swap meet kind of a thing for bees. Just other places in Texas there’s a lot of big commercial beekeepers, but you usually have to order like a minimum of 10 nucs or something.
Justin: What is a nuc, for our listeners?
Molly: A nuc is like a miniature hive. If a normal hive is 10 frames or more, a nuc is 5 frames, so it’s just a little baby hive with the queen, a little bit of honey and a little bit of pollen, a little bit of comb and a little bit of babies and then they grow from there.
Justin: Then you just take those frames out, you put them in your box and you’ve got a half-filled out hive already.
Molly: You do. Yes.
Justin: You can also buy a bag of bees too, right?
Molly: Yes, you can buy a package of bees which is three pounds of bees, a queen and that’s it. She’s just in this mesh. It’s a wooden box but it’s got mesh sides on it and then you just shake them out.
Justin: Have you tried that?
Molly: I have. Your risk is a little bit higher with that because you don’t have like the comb and stuff so they have to be fed a whole lot but it’s a way cheaper way to start beekeeping if price is a concern.
Justin: You can get a nuc, which is plug and play, you can get a bag of bees, or you got renegade beekeepers out there who’ll go find a swarm and a tree and shake it into a box?
Molly: They will, yes.
Justin: The guy who does our copy work like the printing copy scanning, he calls me and he had a swarm and he had a bee box and I told him they tell us to shake it into the box and he has a beehive now.
Molly: It worked for him?
Molly: I tried to get a swarm once and all I can say is YouTube makes it look easier than it really is. I could not get them. I couldn’t jerk the limb hard enough to have them all just fall in. That was my big problem. They were too high where I couldn’t really scrape them from where they were hanging so every time I shook the limb, they just went higher and higher and higher.
Justin: Really all you need to do is get the queen to fall in and the rest fall. That was my understanding.
Molly: Supposedly, yes. She’s somewhere balled up in the middle so supposedly if you shake it really hard, they just fall like they just don’t even try to fly, and then if she’s in there they stay with her.
Justin: Somebody who’s got the education now, the classroom education, they got their equipment, they got their hives, let’s talk about sort of day to day maintenance because Gretchen, I get all of their emails and there was an email about Mark likes to say there are beekeepers and bee havers. I have listened to and I don’t know if it was you or somebody in the class who said, “I’m not the every week guy.” I think Mark, Gretchen is every week or every other week, you need to be in your hive, which is a lot of work. Just donning the equipment and getting it all together and being there, it’s quite a bit of work. I don’t do it every week like he did. What do you think is recommended and what is some of your rule of thumbs and how often you look at your hives?
Molly: I actually had this same conversation with Mary Reed who’s the Chief Apiary Inspection Service, or the Chief Inspector for the Texas Apiary Inspection Service. She said because Mark does say go in every week and there are lots of beekeepers that will check their bees like every other day. If you have the time to do it, that’s great but I don’t. She actually said two weeks. She wouldn’t recommend that you check them more often than every two weeks because you’ll put more stress by opening the box up and messing with them. I’ve been trying to follow that rule although I’m not that good at it. I like to if I’m busy and I can’t check them often. A minimum I try to check them every month. That way if the queen dies, I don’t have a dead colony, I have time to go find a new one.
The lifecycle from egg to adult takes about a month so I feel like I’m catching if things are weird. Then there’s lots of people that like my hot hives– I don’t often open those things. Maybe twice a year because they’re just so mean. It just depends on the person. It’s like having any other animal. Like some people play with their dogs, take them for walks multiple times a day, others just have a dog in their house. It’s just what you have time for and what you do.
Justin: I got spoiled I think. My uncle who I said is a renegade beekeeper, he told me, “Watch the entrance. If there’s a lot of activity, you’re probably good to go. Then just every often as you want to go in there.” I bought a new house from Gretchen this fall and they were just never very active. I guess I got them in maybe March and never very active but that was their thing and then never very active but consistent the whole time and then gone and I got in and it was wax moths.
Molly: They were probably gone and then the wax moths came in because there was nothing to protect it. I guess if the colony was pretty weak then the wax moths could come in too also and then the bees just get irritated with trying to control them and so then they fly off.
Justin: Yes. They never created comb pass their nuc, what was in their nuc so I guess they just never really set up shop. My worry was can they go from- the wax moths go from there to the hot hive?
Molly: They can if no one’s on that comb, so don’t give them more space than they need. If it gets cooler and say you have three boxes high and they’re not in that third box, then get rid of it and put it somewhere sealed up nice and tight so they don’t move into it. If they’re active on all of the comb, then they’ll take care of the wax moths for you.
Justin: I fed the frames in the box to the chickens and they had a field day with all of the larva I guess is what it was. I mean, it’s pretty alarming. It’s black web everywhere and all these worms. It was not a good day for [inaudible 00:29:24]
Molly: It’s pretty gross. Yes, but the chickens do love it. That’s what I do with mine and funny enough, that’s what I saw a post somewhere from Gretchen that they did the same thing.
Justin: Well, they sent out an email right after that happened to my hive that said that this is a really bad year for wax moths for whatever reason. People have the understanding kind of treat them as you wish but rule of thumb according to apiary person is no more than every two weeks, but whatever is best for you. When people are looking at them, what are some of the things they’re just generally trying to look at to make sure that they’ve got a healthy hive? We don’t need to get into the master’s level classes, but what are some of the things that people should generally look for to make sure they’ve got a healthy hive? You may have frozen on me.
Justin: All right. We had some technical problems and that was on our end. I was in the middle of asking you a question and the question at that time was, there’s some debate and people have different philosophies on how often to check on your hive but just generally, what are people when they do check on their hive, what is it that they’re generally looking for to make sure they have a healthy hive?
Molly: You should always be looking to make sure that your colony is what’s called queen right which means that your queen is there and laying eggs and you may not always find the queen. I don’t really spend a lot of time finding her. I think it’s pretty cool if I do find her, but I always just make sure I get into what we call a brood frame, which is brood is the all encompassing term for the babies, the eggs, the larva, and the pupa and I’m looking for very young larva, or eggs if my eyes are really, really good, but [inaudible 00:31:17]
Justin: [inaudible 00:31:19]
Molly: [inaudible 00:31:21]
Justin: Okay. [inaudible 00:31:23] if they want to be a backyard beekeeper?
Justin: I think we talked about [unintelligible 00:31:50] the ways but [unintelligible 00:31:52] but if you watch them come and go, they don’t just kind of go [unintelligible 00:31:55] they stick to those tracks.
Molly: I think it’s really cool. All colonies do that. If you go back and watch enough and be [inaudible 00:32:01] and I think it’s directional [inaudible 00:32:04] they still take the same direction always. I’m sure someone studied that but I don’t know the answers to why they do it.
Justin: I see the bees on my flowers and my plants and people say, “Oh, those are your bees.” I read somewhere that they’ll go in a couple miles in every direction.
Molly: Yes. I’ve read a few different things. I’ve read that they will travel as far as four miles radius around their house, which is a huge difference for a little tiny bee. A huge distance I mean, for a little tiny bee. Then it seems like more of literature says up to two miles but that’s still a long distance to go from their house for something that’s so small. I mean, it’s hard for a human to go two miles walking for food so imagine if you’re a fraction of our size.
Justin: I know that my bees know the water source. I’ve got a little koi pond and it’s got a little trickly fountain, but it’s got lots of low lying water and they all know it and they just– I mean, there’s usually 50 bees on that little fountain. Are they the same when it comes to food sources? Once they find a food source, they’ll return day in and day out or is every day a new day for a bee?
Molly: I think every day can be a new day. It depends on what food source options there are. Like people that have hummingbird feeders and have a problem with honeybees getting on it will tell you they’re coming back every single day. It’s because it’s the only food source that’s there for them. If there’s an abundance of food, then they tend to choose different things. They’re interesting because they actually have like recruiters or they have little bees inside of the hive that determine what they need. If they need more nectar then they’re going to take food off of the bees coming back with nectar and then that tells those bees to go back out and get more and they ignore the water bees and then vice versa when they decide they need more water or pollen or whatever food source they want. They have brains inside of them but the colony as a whole is like its own little brain working. It’s kind of neat.
Justin: An important thing is that you have a nearby water source. I learned when I first started this that bees may be the world’s worst swimmers and anything over maybe an inch they’re just drowning in it. I have chicken waterers and I mean there’s no way to avoid it but every time I’ve changed the chicken water there’s a bunch of dead bees in it. In providing a water source, how do you want to provide a water source to provide for your backyard bees?
Molly: You either make something super shallow that you constantly refill or you put something on top of it like straw or anything that floats so they can perch on it and then go pick up water because they will drown as opposed to wasps that can land on water because bees are so fuzzy so they become saturated in and they’re too heavy to fly off and they fall in.
Justin: I’ve got a [unintelligible 00:34:45] around my patio too and I’ll just spray that and if you pay attention a lot of them will come land on that.
Molly: Yes. They like dirty water too so people like to refill their water buckets and make it really clean but they like it dirty because it has more minerals and taste and they like it better.
Justin: Okay. Then that’s another thing you talked about, the hummingbird feeders. Hummingbirds and bees eat the same thing when you’re feeding them. At some points of the year you want to feed your bees, but at other points, you don’t feed them. What do you feed them and when do you feed bees?
Molly: You feed them sugar syrup or it’s a eight pounds of sugar to a gallon of water weight by weight. If you ask me, do I weigh it out? I don’t. I just mix what I think sounds about right. In the wintertime, you feed them double that so you make a really, really thick syrup, lots of calories for them and you feed them. I feed my bees– In other parts of Texas they feed them at different times like in West Texas, it might be four months out of the year because it’s so dry. In East Texas, they may never feed their bees because they’re so lucky and they get really wet.
In the San Antonio or Central Texas area, I think we generally feed our bees in early spring to get them enough food so that they can feed all the babies that they have regardless of how much is blooming. I always feed my bees in the early spring and then when we go into a nectar dearth, like when we’re really dry in August, I’ll feed them. I’m not really feeding them right now because everything is blooming now that it rained and then I’ll feed them through the wintertime too. I take an assessment of who has how much honey kept inside of their hives and then go into the winter knowing who will need food and who can probably make it without it.
Justin: They sell a variety of different feeders but this year, I just took a cookie sheet and put it on top of the hive and fill that every day or two and that was a lot easier than the ones that you put in the hive and all that but there’s a lot of different options to provide for the food.
Molly: Yes. There are lots of different options. I think where I am because we have so much land around us, if I did those external feeders, I would feed every other bee but my own, so I like to feed inside. If you are in an area where you’re pretty sure the bees that are coming to it are your bees, then it’s not that concerning.
Justin: I know you’re not a lawyer, but are there any laws against people having a beehive in their backyard?
Molly: There’s not. There are no laws within the city of San Antonio. There’s no state of Texas law against beekeeping in your backyard. You might have something in your HOA where you can’t. There’s also no county law, but if you live in another municipality, you might check with them. I do know that in the city in San Antonio, that usually code compliance gets involved when they become a nuisance and they’re seeing their neighbors, so keep them gentle, queen them, feed them. Your neighbors usually don’t even know they’re there.
Justin: Do you requeen your hives yearly?
Molly: I try to requeen them at least every two years if I can’t get queens. I’m going to requeen mine pretty soon because I’m getting to the end of where I can get queens and it’s a good time to requeen in the fall. I have some hives that are so mean that I can’t requeen them so I just let them be mean and just don’t look at them.
Justin: Another question I get oftentimes is do I have an ag exemption? If you live in the city sort of tough luck on getting an ag exemption, right?
Molly: Unless you’re really lucky and you live inside the city and you have more than five acres, you can [unintelligible 00:38:05]. You can have an ag exemption with bees between 5 and 20 acres, but if your homestead is on the land then that usually takes up one acre, so you want essentially six acres. Some people I guess might have that much inside the city, but it takes about six years before you get the exemption and it might be worth doing if you have that much land.
Justin: Yes, but who has five acres inside San Antonio? [laughs] Not many people.
Molly: Very small amount of people do.
Justin: Or six acres I guess is what it is. Then the final thing is honey. Everybody wants to have bees for honey. What nobody warned me is that in harvesting honey, you’re going to have a lot of bees die in your honey. It’s like they just bomb the honey and stick in it.
Molly: Yes. Oh, they’re attracted to it. I mean, they’re like, “Why are you taking this out of my house? I’m going to bring that back.” They get all stuck in it, they get all over you. When I extract honey and I got a good amount of honey this year, it was my best year to get honey. We probably got 15 gallons of honey. A combination of four different hives, but few of them we didn’t pull honey from and one we would just take one or two frames, but we got a lot of honey.
I learned that what I have to do is I have a special top that the bees can leave but they can’t come back in so then they’re off of my frames and I leave it there overnight and then I have a barn that I take it into or you would take it into your house because if you try to extract out in the open then every bee within like a four mile radius is going to try to eat that honey from you and [inaudible 00:39:38].
Justin: You took your frames out of your super and then you had a special top to take you get off of but not back?
Justin: I took them off and I was extracting honey within 30 minutes of taking them off and it was a mess.
Molly: Did you just drain it and let it go into a pan or something?
Justin: Yes. Somebody gave me one of those because a lot of people want to get into it and then they realize I don’t want to do this. Somebody just gifted me a giant separator I guess is what it’s called. That whole thing was full of bees but then I put them on the ground thinking they’ll clean themselves off and fly off. Then my chicken started eating them. It was a thing. I took enough. I think I took four frames and got one gallon. There’s a lot to learn.
Molly: That’s a good amount. Was that your first year to do it?
Molly: The next year is going to be easier.
Justin: Hopefully. [laughs] We have a bunch of citrus where I live. It was the best honey I’ve ever tasted. I don’t just say that. It had a real peachy flavor to it even though it wasn’t peach. I’ve got oranges, Meyer lemons, and limes and grapefruits. It had citrusy peachy flavor to it. I thought it was great and it was dark like molasses. You’ve given us all the resources. Just generally, what is your favorite part of having bees? Why do you keep it up year to year? Because it’s not the easiest hobby to do.
Molly: It is not the easiest hobby. To be honest, I keep so many bees because we have an ag exemption and I want to keep the ag exemption. I like the honey. It’s a fun way to give gifts to teachers and friends and acquaintances and things. It’s just a cool hobby to have. No one else does it. I like keeping them because I like teaching people how to do it. A lot of people have questions and I feel I can be a resource for that. It’s just interesting. I like sitting back and observing and learning from them and seeing how they behave because every colony it’s like they all have a totally different attitude and personality. You learn something every time you’re out there with them.
Justin: One of my favorite parts of the class was there was a big portion with– Is his name David?
Justin: David’s part of the ag extension program as well. He is a botanist maybe?
Molly: He’s a horticulturist.
Justin: Horticulturist. He did a big section on Texas all-star plants that are friendly with the drought water restrictions as well as being friendly for pollinators. I really enjoyed that. I think it was maybe Rainbow Gardens is the one he said that they partner with and he does a radio show with them. Was it Rainbow?
Molly: He partners with all sorts of nurseries and growers. I think it’s Fanick’s that he does most of his stuff with.
Justin: We went out there and they had all these great plants. They weren’t expensive prices. That’s been part of the fun of having bees is trying to create a yard. Whether it does or not make a difference in them because they go so far every day is fun also growing that up in your yard. I’ve enjoyed that.
Molly: Having bees does make you a better gardener. It makes you take more care of your plants and think about what you’re planting too. I’m always looking for stuff that will be bloom. Not necessarily just be green. On the flip side of that is my yard is a lot prettier than it used to be.
Justin: We have almond verbena right now that is just gone crazy and they seem to love it.
Molly: Oh my goodness. I went for a walk just a minute ago and not even two hours ago. We have some almond verbena or bee brush or I’ve heard it called like butterfly, I don’t know. It has a couple of different names but I call it almond verbena. We have not a ton but we have these little patches of it. I walked past and the fragrance was so strong. I knew they were there but I had to turn and stop. When I did, I had to take a video because it was covered in snout-nose butterflies which are out right now and bees. Bees and butterflies can cohabitate and find food. It was undulating. It was moving. It was so many animals. It was insane.
Justin: Queen’s crown is the only thing in our yard that looks like it’s alive. The whole thing just buzzes all summer. Those little pink— It’s like a terrible weedy vine that takes over anything. It blooms year-round and you just stand and the whole vine just buzzes. Those things are fun.
Molly, thank you so much for doing this. It’s a question I get a lot. Your class was very informative to me and made me better at trying to keep bees alive even though I had a bad year. I’m going to keep it up. Thank you so much. I’m going to tell people. I’m going to post how they can find out more about your classes. Thanks again. Maybe we’ll get you back on the talk in the future as things change or maybe some more entomology-related issues pop up.
Molly: It sounds like fun. Thanks.
Justin: All right. Molly, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Molly: Thank you for having me.
Justin: All right. Bye-bye.