College instructor, Marek McKenna, buzzes about as a beekeeper
Updated: Jan 30, 2019
I am online history college instructor. I also work in the fields of consulting, marketing, web development, and beekeeping.
How did you become a beekeeper?
I thought about keeping bees for a long time, originally thinking about bees and their roles. After finding myself surrounded by small sustainable farmers, I decided to start local hives.
What is one of the major threats to our honeybees?
While neonicotinoids and other insecticides are a threat, one of the most insidious threats is a pest called the varroa mite. This mite effects every honeybee colony in the world with the exception Australia; they have been really diligent about keeping the mite out. The pest is a newer threat, around since the 1970’s. The honeybees haven’t found an evolutionary solution yet. The only honeybee not affected by the mite is the African bee. Hopefully, crossbreeding with the African bee will help combat the mite.
What is a varroa mite?
The mite is like a giant tick. To put it in perspective, it would be like an 18 pound tick latching onto a baby while in still in development. The mite first gets past the gatekeepers of the hive by latching onto a worker bee. The mite then lays its eggs in the honeycombs where young bees are raised. The bee is hatched with the mite. The mite then constantly sucks on their blood which causes the bees’ wings not to develop. They can’t fly and their lives are then shortened by a week to 10 days. Bees only live about 40 days, so that’s pretty significant.
What can you do about the varroa mite?
I make sure to monitor the mite count by placing samples of the bees into a jar. I then sprinkle powdered sugar onto the bees (which is harmless), shake the jar up a little, and then turn the jar upside down. The mites then shake out, and I can see a representation of about how many are in a hive. Treatment depends on the time of the year, as well as the number of mites. My bees are not resistant to the mite (I don’t have that stock yet), so I have to be diligent. If I don’t treat the bees, they will all die.
Where are your hives located?
My hives are spread out in several areas around North Carolina. Hive sites include an apple orchard, some pastor land that hasn’t been sprayed in over 25 years, as well as sites in Durham, Orange, Chatham, and Alamance counties.
How many bees do you have?
30k-60k per box/hive with a total of 500,000 to 750,000.
How much time and care do the bees require?
How much I drive to the hive sites and interact with the bees depends on the season. Bees are pretty self-sufficient and don’t like to be bothered. The more you mess with them, the more you get in the way of the bees doing their work. If I tear their hive apart, they have to work to put it back together. I try not to get into the hives too much.
What would be a reason to go into a hive?
Recently, I had to re-queen a hive (the other queen died), which requires me to visit the hive every other day to make sure the queen is being accepted by the other bees. It sometimes takes a couple weeks to re-queen a hive. There is a process.
Since I brought in a new queen bee from a different stock (a Russian), it takes a few days for the other bees (the Italians) to get used to her. She has been placed in a smaller cage (with her attendants) within the hive so they can interact with her without harming her. Once they get used to her smell and pheromones, she will be allowed to fully interact with the hive. She should then start laying eggs.
How can people encourage more honeybees to come to their gardens?
Encourage pollinators to come to your yard by planting a lot of plants honeybees like; they need enough plants to grab their attention. Be careful about using insecticides in your yard and don’t go too crazy about the dandelions. Dandelions are great for all pollinators.
How can people start their own hives?
North Carolina is actually a great beekeeping state in terms of education. Every county has a beekeeper club that often starts in January. They do fill up quickly, so look into the program as soon as you can. I also advise finding a mentor, taking a class, and looking into the many educational opportunities that are available. It’s better to buy the equipment in bulk, as it can be expensive. Local bee keeping clubs often have equipment you can rent, so it’s less expensive to get into. And you will need protective equipment. If you want to melt the wax to make lotions and balms, then you will need a solar melter too.
Talk about the hive share program you offer:
I bring my bees into your garden, so you can then host a site. I then come back to the hive occasionally to take care of them. At the end of the season, we split the honey from the hive.
Do bees really smell fear?
I think so. A new puppy was running around at one of my sites and my hands were full, so I couldn’t stop the dog from sticking his head into the hive. He obviously wasn’t scared and didn’t get stung. He wasn’t afraid. Meanwhile people get stung when thy go into the hive. It’s important to remember, when bees are out working flowers, they are on a mission to take the groceries home. They are not going to bother you.
How many times have you been stung?
100’s! It’s not too bad. Just make sure you get the stinger out as soon as possible and pour ammonia on the sting site. It completely takes the sting away! I feel badly when they sting me because they die. And yes, they will sting you through the equipment. It’s not foolproof.
How can we purchase your honey?
Visit my website Missionary Bees where you can learn about pre-purchasing the honey ahead of the season. You have the option to buy a quarter, half or full hive share. Delivery of the hive shares will be made in the summer, after we harvest our spring honey! We will be in contact with local customers to arrange pickup and/or delivery locations. And there is always the option to host a hive as well, where you have the option of learning beekeeping while you receive 12 jars of honey and other bee produced items.
What brought you to North Carolina?
I was working in Florida and grew tired of hurricanes and wanted a change. I knew I wanted a warm climate, nice people, and a high quality of living. Nothing compares to North Carolina and it is the place to be!