Log In

Reset Password

Wheddon family tend to bees’ needs

First Prev 1 2 3 Next Last
Mark Wheddon with sons Gideon ten, Liam, eight, and Asher six

There are some bees that are so gentle you can put your ungloved hand in their hive and pull it out unscathed. These are not Mark Wheddon’s bees.

“I’d like to say their bark is bigger than their bite, but that is not the case,” said the beekeeper. “Bermuda bees are quite aggressive and today the bees are angry because we’ve been doing something with the hive.”

Needless to say The Royal Gazette photo session was over in a flash. Mr Wheddon is one of several beekeepers struggling to keep Bermuda’s bees humming despite a plague that is decimating the population worldwide. He started beekeeping four years ago with his children Moriah, 13, Gideon, ten, Liam, eight and Asher, six.

The hobby is sweet but definitely has its sting, the vice president of the Bermuda Beekeepers’ Association admitted.

“Just when you think you know what you’re doing you’ll go out and find your bees all dead,” he said. “Or just when you are ready to throw in the towel, someone will call you to come and collect a swarm and you’ll be back in business with another hive.”

The bee apocalypse is caused, in part, by a parasite called the varroa mite that reduces the bees’ immunity to viruses. Two thousand mites can destroy a hive of 30,000 bees. Many plants, including agricultural crops, depend on bees for pollination so the problem has serious implications for humans.

“Bermuda’s bee population is definitely suffering,” said Mr Wheddon. “We have beekeepers like Randy Furbert who used to have 300 to 400 hives. Last winter at one point he was down to 30. I had 17 hives and I am down to 12 hives, but it is up and down. We definitely see evidence of disease.”

The Wheddons sometimes take the dead bees to Government entomologist Claire Jessey for examination.

Since the Wheddon children are home-schooled, this doubles as a science lesson. “I saw the bee’s lungs,” said Asher. The microscope often reveals several parasites attached to a bee, or crammed into a honeycomb cell.

The dead bee will have a bloated abdomen and appear deformed. “There are a couple of treatments you can try,” said Mr Wheddon, “but the problem is you are trying to kill an insect that is on another insect. Some early attempts to kill the varroa mite led to killing both the mite and the bee.”

Bermuda bees are European honeybees and were first imported in 1616. Because they are introduced, and also because of the threat of importing more disease, Bermuda beekeepers are not allowed to bring more in.

Therefore, local beekeepers get excited when an unwanted swarm or hive of bees is found. Mr Wheddon often takes his children with him to collect swarms. This is not an easy job and getting stung is a fact of life for the Wheddons. They use protective suits, but they aren’t perfect.

“The last time I was stung, we were taking a hive out of a roof,” said Liam. “My bee suit was tight, against my skin around the elbows and a bee was able to sting me through the bee suit. The suit is good if the suit is loose, but if it is tight the stinger can get through.”

Beekeepers use smoke to make bees a little drowsy, but again, it’s not a perfect solution. The bees don’t like being moved. Once they are relocated the mover needs to get out of the area, quickly, until they calm down. Mr Wheddon has had his truck chased 250ft down the road.

And sometimes they aren’t happy with the new accommodations. “Sometimes you’ve done all this work to move them and you come out and they are gone,” he said.

If a homeowner needs a swarm or unwanted hive moved, and the project is easy and quick, beekeepers usually won’t charge anything.

However, when there is danger and work involved, there usually is a cost, sometimes $500 or upwards.

The benefit of keeping bees is the delicious honey itself. The Wheddons sell their honey under the label ‘Grace Cottage’ and they also make candles out of beeswax. The honey changes from season to season depending on what the bees are eating.

In the winter the bees’ primary source of food is the Mexican pepper tree, and the honey comes out thick, dark and a little spicy.

In the summer, sage, pittosporum and wild fennel are the bees’ favourite snacks and the honey comes out lighter in colour and runnier.

“If you are interested in beekeeping, come to a Bermuda Beekeepers’ Association meeting so you can get stung, I mean, learn what it is all about,” said Mr Wheddon. “If you have a hive or swarm on your property don’t kill it.

“The gene pool for bees is small enough on the Island. There are a number of beekeepers listed in the telephone directory. Call one of us, or call Claire Jessey and she will contact one of us.”

If you want to taste some Bermuda honey and learn more about bees and beekeeping, Mr Wheddon is giving a lecture and selling his products at Fourways Inn in Warwick every Sunday in September as part of Bee Awareness Month.

“Actually, we give the talk and sell the honey while dad hits the buffet,” said Gideon.

A swarm of bees is shown shortly before removal from a residential area recently
Moriah Wheddon, 13, with a bee swarm
<p>Some facts about bees</p>

Bermuda has the European honey bee.

Bees with a hive in the shade tend to be more aggressive.

More aggressive hives tend to produce more honey.

One bee will produce one-twelfth a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

Hives differ in character depending on the genetics of the queen bee. Some hives have high yield, while others don’t. Some hives are better guarded while others aren’t.

Bees have a stronger sense of smell than dogs and can tell that the queen bee has died in the hive within 15 minutes of her death.

The queen bee has no stripes. She is larger than other bees and darker in colour.