Dr. Gary Shilling, the president of A. Gary Shilling & Co., spoke to Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget about bees. Shilling is a recreational beekeeper and has an apiary in the back yard of his New Jersey home. Following is a transcript.
HENRY BLODGET: You say that the Shilling Apiaries, your bee colonies, you just harvested the honey now it is time to medicate the colonies. Can we talk about bees for a second, what does that mean?
GARY SHILLING: Well of course. Well, honeybees have been beset with a number of diseases and pests in the last two decades. Matter fact, there are very few — surprisingly few — amateur beekeepers left anymore. Because … people, you know, they open the hive once in the spring and see if everything’s ok, and then take off the harvest in the fall. Now I’ve got to be in that hive at least once a month, and this time of year more frequently than that. And I treat for seven different maladies and we just took off the honey. I do that in early August to get these treatments on before the bees go into their winter cluster. I’ll explain that in a minute. But the idea is, that I want to get the honey off that we’re going to eat, before I put these medications on. But there are all kinds of things. There’s a parasitic mite called varroa — v-a-r-r-o-a — that hangs on the bees and sucks out their juices. And if you don’t treat that hive for varroa, absolutely guarantee positively it will be dead in two years, no exceptions. And then there’s a bee diarrhoea, and there are a couple of bacterial diseases, and some viruses, and so on and so forth. And interesting enough though, bees are not going to disappear from the Earth. There are 2.7 million honeybee colonies in this country today. Two years ago there were 2.5 million. So they actually have increased, but it’s getting much more expensive and time-consuming to keep the bees alive and producing.
BLODGET: You also mentioned this fascinating thing that the hive and colony over the winter is just women? Because the men in bee society actually don’t have to do all that much.
SHILLING: Tough break — tough break guys. No, you have three casts of honeybees. You have the queen and she is a complete female, and she’s just a laying machine. A good queen can lay 2,000 eggs a day. In the hive right now there are 50,000 to 60,000 bees, in a good hive — she’s a laying machine. Then the worker bees are incomplete females. They do all the work. They gather the nectar, they process it, they feed the queen, they guard the hive — they do all the work. But they cannot reproduce. Then you have the drones: the males. They don’t — they can’t sting, they don’t clean up the hive, they don’t do any work, and the only thing they do is mate with a queen. And when she mates, she mates with a dozen to 20 of them. That’s the way of avoiding inbreeding. And the ones that fly the highest and the fastest get to mate with a queen. And they promptly die, you know, after they mate, with big smiles on their faces. Anyway, but the thing is that a drone has no father, a drone is an unfertilized egg. If a queen drops an egg and does not drop a sperm on top of it, it turns into a drone. If she drops the sperm on top of it, it turns into a female worker bee. So as long as a queen has eggs she can make all of the drones she wants. So at the end of the season, the worker bees — and I’ve seen this — they literally drag the drones out and push them over the edge of the hive. I mean, they’re not going to carry that baggage through the winter.
Because see, honeybees are all from the old world. There are lots of new world bees: wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, bumblebees, and so on. They hibernate. They only make enough honey to feed their larvae. Honeybees don’t hibernate. They’re all from the new world. They came here with European settlers — but they don’t hibernate. So they’re in the hive in the winter. Now, if you’re in the hive in the winter, you got to keep warm, and to keep warm you got to eat. And that’s why they have honey. They thought it was because you liked honey, right? No, they’re making honey to get through the winter. Now they’re working fools so as long as there’s nectar and a place to put the honey. They will make more than they need and that’s where we come in.
In this climate, this New York area, they need about 60 pounds for a hive to get through the winter and we take off the rest. But anyway, they are in that hive in the center and they’re in this cluster, bisected by these frames, and are eating their way through that hive and the colder it is, the tighter that cluster is to keep warm.
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