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As Long as We Remember...

February 28, 2011

The Birds and The Honeybees

Michael Kurtianyk

On those days when Mother Nature permits, I take a walk in the morning in my neighborhood. Until recently, all I heard were the crows who flew around cawing at anything that moved. Even a slowpoke like me.


Earlier this week, I heard more than just the crows. I heard blue jays and some other songbirds. I’m not very good at identifying birds that I see, but I can tell a few by sight. I thought it was great to hear these birds; and, though I have yet to see a robin, spring must surely be around the corner.


Then came the snow. The day before I posted on my Facebook page that we were expected to receive 4-6 inches. Neighbor Jim, ever the skeptic, said that if we received more than two inches of snow, then he’d wash my car for me.


Well, we here in Middletown received about five inches of the white stuff. I couldn’t get my car out of the garage, but as I was getting ready to shovel our way out, Neighbor Jim drove up the driveway with his plow and cleared the snow.


I came out and said: “This replaces the car wash later this Spring.”




Ever watch Bee Movie? You know it – the one that Jerry Seinfeld wrote a few years ago. I thought about that movie when I received an email from a Frederick County resident about honeybees.


Did you know that a honey bee will travel over a 2.5 mile radius (about 6,000 acres) to collect nectar and pollen? Here are some other facts that were included in my email:


Yellow jackets, hornet and wasps are not honey bees. Honey bees are docile; only worker bees sting, and only if they feel that the hive is threatened. They die after stinging.


According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture “one mouthful in three of the foods you eat directly or indirectly depends on pollination by honey bees.”


“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” – Albert Einstein.


Honey bees across the world have been wiped out by urbanization, pesticides, parasitic mites and what is known as CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder), an unexplained disappearance of entire colonies.


Over 60% of the honey bee hives in Maryland are kept by backyard beekeepers having fewer than three hives.


Honey bee swarms are typically not dangerous and will generally have a gentle disposition. (In Maryland, they will generally only swarm in April and May.)


Pollination needs are just as important locally as nationally. We must find ways to improve colony health in our own community.


The purpose of the email was to ask for support of creating new Frederick County ordinances specific to the keeping of honey bees in residential areas. The way things are now, honeybees are like farm animals, and as such, are not permitted to be kept on a residential property of fewer than three acres. On properties of three acres or more, there are no limitations to the number of hives permitted.


The other side of this issue, of course, is the concern of the neighbors. If you live in an area of the county without a homeowner’s association, would you want a honeybee hobbyist next door to you? What if you have children? Is it possible that there’s an increased likelihood of bee stings?


That honeybees are important to agriculture is not an issue. I said as much to Farmer Pete, who told me a story about the time when he was a boy, and he and his brother were at a neighbor’s farm making a delivery. The path up to the house was lined with dogwoods, and behind the trees were hives. The farmer there kept bees for the honey.


It was a hot day, another scorcher in a week that saw record temperatures. The boys noticed that swarms of the honeybees were hovering around the hives, a natural air conditioning system for their brethren.


The boys were leaving the farm, having made their delivery, when they saw a dog. It was the yellowest, scrawniest, scruffiest cur of a dog you ever did see, Farmer Pete said. The dog was resting in the shade of one of the dogwoods, near the hives. Pete’s brother handed him the reins and took out his slingshot. He aimed his slingshot at the dog, pulled back, and let go.


The good news is that he missed the dog. The bad news is that he hit one of the hives.


The bees were so startled that they flew en masse away from the hive and at the sleeping dog. The dog woke up and yelped and barked and ran like the devil toward the house.


There was a gap between the bottom of the porch and the front yard, not much, said Farmer Pete, but enough for the dog to dive into. The dog mis-timed his dive though, and hit its forehead on the bottom of the porch.


The boys didn’t stay to watch what happened next.


I told Farmer Pete that if honeybees could be trained to kill stinkbugs, then I’m all for it.


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