September 2016 saw the TEDxOmaha Adventures with the Omaha Bee Club at their new teaching apiary. This is located on eight acres inside the Bohemian Cemetery on 52nd and Centre, and is one of several apiaries scattered throughout the city. We were the guests of the club president, master bee keeper and founder of the club Tony Sandoval. The club started eight hives at this newest location in April this year, and plan to expand to twelve next year, which will put them into the national bee health monitoring program working alongside UNL. This apiary which has a mixture of traditional Langstroth hives and the newer Kenyan Horizontal top box hive, is used as a teaching lab for new and existing beekeepers, allowing hands on practice as well as providing examples of planting to support honey production. It also allows outside groups like ourselves to have firsthand knowledge of what you can do to help bees survive and thrive in urban as well as rural environments. In particular the importance of providing pollen and nectar planting all year round and especially in the early spring and late fall when bees are too weak to travel far for food. We met members of the bee club, including a bee whisperer and a veteran bee keeper of over 40 years who kept a hive in the garage.
Fun facts that we learnt during the day – bees are a super organism, like the Borg. They go above collective intelligence to an interdependence that makes every bee part of the whole. The queen will go from laying 100 eggs a day at the start and end of the season to over 1, 700 eggs a day. This is to keep the hive populated, to maintain the workforce to defend the hive, support honey production, and perform maintenance as a worker bee only lives about 45 days. Angry bees or ‘ornary’ bees are better housekeepers and honey producers than docile ones. The partnership exists between the bees and the beekeeper, somewhat similar to residents in a condo. The bees take care of the inside of the hive and the beekeeper is responsible for the maintenance of the outside of the hive and grounds surrounding the hive. Bees produce an abundance of honey, of which they only need about 10% so the bee keeper is not stealing the honey needed by the hive for survival. Tony called it ‘collecting rent from the condo residents’. The type of bee relates to the geography and ability to adapt to the surroundings and growing season. Italian bees are the most popular bees in the USA, they are gentle but they are used to a longer season so will rob other hives to get enough food. Carniolan bees from Western Europe are the nest most post popular and well suited to the Nebraska climate. Russian and Caucasian bees have a shorter season starting after the Italian bees, which makes the hive prey to ‘robber’ bees. The hybrid or mutts are bees who have developed in the wild and adapted to local conditions, these bees are interesting to geneticists like Tony, who will use them for breeding a more resilient strain.
Keep watching the TEDxOmaha Adventures, as Tony kindly offered to do a follow up adventure next year, and take us on a tour of the apiaries in Omaha including a rooftop apiary in downtown Omaha.