The buzz about beekeeping in New Jersey

The buzz about beekeeping in New Jersey

For many beekeepers, the swift movement of a honeybee is calming. These community-minded insects spend their days carefully working to keep their hive healthy and productive.

“Bees are very organized, very structured, and they’re always making sure they’re taking care of each other,” says Richard Lepik, president of the Morris-Somerset county branch of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association.

These black and yellow fliers that grow up to a sixth of an inch long — often mistaken for other wild bees such as wasps — live and work in colonies that are comprised of one queen bee, hundreds of male drones and thousands of female workers. A strong hive will support 35,000 to 50,000 bees, according to Lepik.

“There are nine to 11 different jobs a bee can have in its life,” Lepik says. “The needs of the hive will determine what it’s going to do.”

The queen’s main job is to lay eggs, and she depends on the worker bees to collect enough nectar and pollen to sustain the health of the hive. Lepik explains that “a queen will be motivated to work as hard as she can, depending on what the forager bees bring in.”

The younger worker bees remain inside the hive “preparing wax, preparing the cells, and putting in the pollens and nectars that the older forager bees are bringing in from the outside,” says Lepik.

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The drones are only responsible for mating with a virgin queen bee, and after they accomplish that task they die. Lepik refers to the mating sites of honey bees as bars in the sky. “They have areas about 30 feet in the air where males hang out,” he says. Lepik explains that one of the only times the queen leaves the hive is to breed, and she only does this once in her life. “The drones hit on her and she gets bred eight to 12 times, in one or two trips, then goes back into the hive and she’s fine for the rest of her life.”

Food and bees

While the honeybees are busy working for the survival of their colony, they are unknowingly helping our agricultural production. “About one third of the food we eat is dependent upon the honeybee for pollination,” says Tim Schuler, New Jersey state apiarist. “In New Jersey the blueberries, apples, cherries, pears, cranberries, melons, squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins all depend upon honeybee pollination to have a decent high quality crop.

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