Chuck Reburn and Tanya Phillips hope to create a buzz for Austin’s first Tour De Hives on Saturday.
by Donna Marie Miller
Thousands of bees buzz just inches away from Tanya Phillips’ face on a recent hot August afternoon. They carry golden pollen from native wildflowers to hives located on her property just off U.S. Highway 290 in Oak Hill.
She peers into an observation hive that her husband, Chuck Reburn created. It allows Phillips to watch her bees safely from behind a sheet of clear glass as they reproduce and make honey in their human-made habitat.
Still, other bees exit and roam from the hive, zipping and zizzing through the air around Phillips’ head.
Phillips and Reburn, who own Bee Friendly Austin, a certified naturally grown apiary in Oak Hill, will co-sponsor Tour De Hives Saturday Aug. 17, beginning at 8 a.m. on their property located at 9874 Wier Loop Circle in Oak Hill. The Facebook address is: www.TourdeHives.org.
The event will kick off with honey and mead tasting, beehive tours and basic introduction classes to beekeeping. Self-guided participants will sign waivers to visit bee yards within a 20-mile radius of the state’s Capitol until 2 p.m. using flyers with maps and directions. This is not a pet-friendly event and Phillips advises participants to leave them at home.
Phillips will provide some training presentations and a few vendors will also provide equipment used for harvesting and tasting of honey products. The event will also serve as a fundraiser for The Bee Friendly Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports scientific education, public awareness, humane treatment, sustainability, and collection of honey from bees.
The Phillips-Reburn business web address is: www.beefriendlyaustin.com. Information about the classes Phillips teaches and the hives that Reburn sells can be found at: www.teeceebeez.com.
Phillips and Reburn have a passion for beekeeping, and hope to introduce others to nine other local beekeepers as part of the Tour De Hives. Participants will caravan to various homes in Austin to observe backyard beekeeping.
“I started this whole vision of The Tour De Hives. We like being on the leading edge of ‘cool.’ We did ‘back yard chickens’ (farming) in the city before it got trendy and now back yard bees are the next Austin ‘funky thing’ and we think it’s time to get folks started because the bees need us,” Phillips says.
The Tour De Hives will also coincide Aug. 17 with “National Honey Bee Day.” Phillips hopes people will be inspired. Future beekeepers can order their bees in December, receive them by March and build up a strong colony by next summer.
“We hope this first annual Tour De Hives will lead to a bigger and better one next year,” Phillips says. “The trend is happening. We know this because we participate in all kinds of groups and organizations connected to beekeeping through Facebook.com and Yahoo.com.”
Some of the groups are Austin Area Beekeepers, San Marcus Bee Wranglers, Central Texas Beekeepers and FayCo Beekeepers of Fayette County.
Some of the focus groups hope to alter the world-wide decline of honeybees. Scientific researchers have blamed genetically modified seeds, environmental influences, and pests such as the varroa mite, according to Brit Amos, author of “Death of the Bees. Genetically Modified Crops and the Decline of Bee Colonies in North America,” published Aug. 9, 2011 on www.globalresearch.ca.
“Our goal with the Bee Friendly Foundation is to create a grant that a college student of entomology can receive to study bees and that research will benefit bees,” Phillips said. The foundation’s website address is: www.beefriendlyfoundation.org.
Other beekeepers, like Phillips and Reburn, farm honey as a sustainable food source as well. The couple hopes to move to their farmland near Big Bend National Park within three years and start living “off the grid,” she says. Their future mountainous desert home has solar energy, a rainwater collection system, and area to plant a large garden and to care for bees.
At Phillips’ current home in Oak Hill, bees fly towards a metal water tank, like those reserved for cattle. The bees land on top of a concrete hexagonal-shaped island designed specifically for bees in the pond’s center surrounded by water.
“They’ve left the hive. They’re foragers, they’re female. We don’t really have any male bees right now. It’s not drone season yet. So you probably won’t see the boys,” Phillips says chuckling a bit.
“This floats in our pond for the bees, so they won’t drown. Unlike the wasps—they will fly down and can land on the water and they can take off—bees can’t do that.”
Phillips doesn’t run nor hide from the bees. She’s affectionately given all five of her personal beehives names—such as “Bee-yonce,” “Bee-onca,” “Ona-bee,” “Bee-atrice,” and “May-bee.”
The exits on hives face the very same direction forming a parallel line, northeast along a barbed wire fence that surrounds the Phillips-Reburn property. Phillips gets inches away from one hive with two holes in it that bees enter and exit.
When she’s simply observing the bees, she wears just shorts and a T-shirt, no protective bee farming gear. The largest of her hives has three additional holes, currently plugged with corks.
“If you get enough bees, you can open more holes,” she says. “But you don’t want to open more holes than they (the bees) have the ability to guard.”
Since she started keeping beehives in May, the numbers of bees living in each of her colonies has remained small—less than 30,000 per hive.
“I was supposed to be the only bee keeper,” Phillips says. “But as soon as Chuck started studying bees, he was like ‘I’m gonna’ do bees too.’ And he kinda goes crazy; when Chuck does something, he does it all the way.”
In the last three months, Reburn has built 12 Langstroth style hives, large rectangle-shaped wood boxes that stack vertically to provide eight frames each for bees to create combs.
According to Oscar H. Will III, author of “The 2011 Guide To Backyard Bees and Honey,” published on www.grit.com, the Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth designed the modular structures in the mid 1800s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Though Langstroth never profited from his patent, apiarists still consider him “the Father of bee keeping.”
Reburn also built nuc hives, smaller starter wooden ones shaped like hat boxes. He will more than likely combine the bees living in his nucs with his other hives to strengthen them for the winter, Phillips said.
In order to open and close the handmade wooden hives, Phillips sometimes subdues the bees using a smoker. The hand-held device burns wood and pieces of raw cotton to create a flameless, cool smoke.
“People think that the smoke calms the bees, but I always say ‘I don’t think it calms the bees.’ One, they don’t have eyelids, so it hurts the bees; and two, they release a pheromone called an ‘alarm pheromone’ and it masks the alarm scent, so the bees can’t smell (and say) – ‘oh my god, there’s danger, danger around.’ So it hurts their eyes and it confuses them,” Phillips said.
When opening up the hives, Phillips uses a protective suit.
“I don’t like to get stung,” she says. “So I researched a little bit about what is the best suit to buy and decided for Texas I wanted an Ultra Breeze® (suit.) It does let a little bit of air in, but it’s sandwiched waffle material—it has an inner layer, a waffle layer, and another layer so the bees can’t get through. And if they did sting one, it still wouldn’t get through all three places.”
She likes the Ultra Breeze® bee suit because zippers run from hip to ankle, making it easy to get in and out of quickly. The gear also allows easy access to pockets, with Velcro snap closures at the wrists and ankles. Phillips usually wears boots and long socks underneath the suit, to prohibit bees from attempting to enter her suit from the ground. The spacious suit also features a special zipper-sealed hood with a form-fitted enclosure or mask kept away from the face.
“Unfortunately, it sells for $259 and you cannot find it cheaper. But it’s the best and I’ve never been stung through my suit.”
She thinks that she has been stung on the back of her hand through the gloves, she said.
“When they sting you through the gloves, it’s not sticking the stinger (in) real deep, so it doesn’t hurt. When they sting you, their whole abdomen detaches and that leaves it in your skin. That’s why if you leave it in there, it’s still pumping the liquid in you,” Phillips said.
“So you just want to real carefully, grab the abdomen and pull it back out, or slide it out like with a credit card, or your fingernail and pull the stinger out and it (the pain) goes away right away. Honey bee stings hardly hurt at all and they hurt for a very short time.”
She says the pain one feels from a honeybee sting is nothing like any received from a wasp or hornet. The less a beekeeper disturbs a hive, the better. Most hives require little maintenance after the first year, about one visit every two months.
Phillips says that when opening up a hive, she immediately locates the queen, the largest bee, the one with a large golden-colored abdomen usually found closest to the larvae, or bee “babies.” The life span of a female honeybee from egg to adult ready to leave the cells of a honeycomb spans 21 days, she said.
“For three days it’s an egg, then a larva, then it starts out as a white bee—it’s so cool—and then it changes into the bee that we see now,” Phillips says.
“They (other bees) start shaking her, (the queen) and stop feeding her…and she’ll start to lose weight. And when she gets thin enough that she can fly, her and half of the bees will take off. It’s called a swarm. They’ll land up in a tree or on a building somewhere and they’ll all hover up like a football or a giant basketball of bees. Then, they’ll sit there and they’ll wait and they’ll send out some scouts. As soon as the scouts find a place to live, they’ll put some pheromone out and then they’ll go and do their little bee dance and tell all the other bees where they’ve found some place to live.”
The swarm of bees will move as one in a formation similar to a tornado in the air until the bees fly into their new location. Once relocated, the bees will sit and fan their wings and spread more pheromones so the rest of the bees can find their way. The rest of the bees will begin feeding a few of the larvae (left by the exiting queen) extra royal jelly to make queen cells. Typically the first or strongest queen born will kill the rest of the queens and take over as the new queen of the hive. The life cycle of a queen honeybee is 16 days; drones, the male bees, live 24 days and are much larger.
Phillips says she and Reburn will take calls from people to remove a swarm of bees and relocate them safely. She says they cannot remove established bee colonies from their hives—such as the inside walls of structures. That takes a special professional removal team.
“We don’t do that,” she explained. “Some places do that, but we are more about beekeeping for the bees than us. We’re not beekeeping as a life-supporting business. If we make enough money to help the bees, that’s all we care about.”
Phillips says that most people who are afraid of bees don’t know enough about them. Those who learn about them, often end up wanting to help the bees. At the Tour De Hives, Phillips plans to offer some classes in an air-conditioned building led by PowerPoint.
Phillips and Reburn introduced their neighbors Bill and Sharon Stanberry to bee keeping recently. The Stanberrys keep two hives just down the road.
“Tanya and Chuck raise bees and we’ve been talking about it for some time. I wanted to put some in my back yard in Western Oaks and thought we’d try a couple of hives over here first,” Bill Stanberry said.
“Tanya and Chuck have been very, very supportive and helpful—good trainers. So it has been a good learning experience; it looks like we’re going to have honey.”
Phillips says both she and the Stanberrys will allow their bees to keep their honey for the first year, but will harvest the hives during their second year. She plans to take as much as 20 to 30 pounds of honey from each of her hives after their second year of production.
“Bees are about relationships and working together to achieve sustainability. I think the world will need a lot more of that to survive and thrive for future generations,” Phillips said.
Phillips and Reburn will co-sponsor Tour De Hives with BeeWeavers Apiary of Dripping Springs; owners Danny and Laura Weaver plan to add their new bee farm, mercantile, and learning center to one of the stops on the tour.
Before Phillips invested in her apiary and started her non-profit organization, she took some classes hosted by Dean Cook at Rohan Meadery, one of the vendors who will offer mead tasting as part of Tour De Hives.
to present at Tour De Hives Austin
|6002 Farm to Market 2981La Grange, TX 78945(979) 249-5652
John and Wendy Rohan, owners of Rohan Meadery just outside of LaGrange, represents the first its generation of meaderies to process Texas honey into wine. Since the Rohans opened in 2009, four other meaderies have followed and soon a fifth will open in Austin.
The Rohans formed the Texas Mead Association and also sponsor a Mead Fest in Sequin during the month of September as part of National Honey Bee Month. They also are members of the Fayette County Beekeeper (FayCoBeeks) Association.
The Rohans built a tasting room in 2010 nestled between Round Top and LaGrange. The company produces 12 different mead varieties; including traditional mead fermented from honey alone and 11 other fermented fruit meads that include:
The Rohans make their meads from Texas Wildflower honey and Texas Huajilla honey. They also collect honey from hives on their own property and some from the Reed Family Honey farm in Montgomery County. Otherwise, the Rohans use only a small portion of an orange-blend honey from Florida mixed in the peach-flavored mead they make.
When the Rohans attend the Tour De Hives Aug. 17 they won’t bring all 12 varieties of mead with them. The company can’t keep all varieties in stock long enough to have more than five or six types of meads on hand at any one time. Right now, the Rohans plan to bring five types of mead with them to town next week, Wendy Rohan says.
Fermented honey, considered a wine in the state of Texas, takes anywhere from six months to a year to process. In terms of quantity, the Rohans’ production varies every year because it depends upon the honey supply. They processed about 500 cases last year – or 12 bottles per case, at about 750 ml per standard wine bottle.
“We’re tiny. We’re the tiniest winery you can imagine, very tiny for a winery,” Rohan says. “In the past couple of decades, there has been this resurgence in craft brew, crafted alcohols – artisanal handmade alcohol, whether it’s spirits, or grains and beers. We need to thank of the craft brewers; they have expanded the palates of what people consider flavorful. They’ve pushed people to try things that have flavor and complexity.”
The Rohans use either one of two processes to create their mead. The honey is fermented first by itself for a couple of months and then they add fruit juice or they ferment fruit juice and the honey together. The process just depends upon the type of mead that the Rohans choose to make at any time, she says.
“Honey is the number one show-stealer – by volume or weight – it is the number one ingredient in all our meads,” she says. “I think the Tour De Hives is a great idea. I’ve met Tanya and Chuck on a number of occasions. John and I think they’re great people. We hope to support the event anyway that we can.”
BeeWeaver Apiaries – Hill Country location
3700 McGregor Lane
Dripping Springs, Texas 78620
Bee Goods Mercantile –
|6301 Highland Hills DriveAustin, TX 78731http://beegoodsmercantile.com
Danny and Laura Weaver represent fourth generation beekeepers that own three locations in Texas associated with both BeeWeaver Apiaries and Bee Goods Mercantile: one in Dripping Springs, another in Navasota near College Station, and still another non-retail Austin location where they house bees. The Weaver children will likely become the family’s fifth generation bee farmers.
The Dripping Springs location is currently being renovated. The family has hives and equipment on the land, but it is not completed. Eventually the family plans to teach lessons, said Central Texas beekeeper, Andrew Shahan.
He manages the bees at Dripping Springs and teaches one-on-one beekeeping courses on client properties or at the BeeWeaver facilities.
The BeeWeaver company also sells equipment on its website and will ship it to bee farmers.
When Shahan received his bachelors degree in entomology from University of Florida in 2012 he contacted the Weavers in Texas because they are internationally known for their queen breeding. He’s 24 years old and the first beekeeper in his family.
“My family thought I was a little bit crazy when I told them that I was really into bugs, but they all love it now,” Shahan says.
One of the largest facets of the BeeWeaver family business involves selling bees. Shahan and the Weavers ship queen bees around the world. Most of their clients – about 50 percent – are based only in Texas and the company also serves beekeepers around the world, he says.
Typically, beekeeping has been passed down from generation to generation within families, but that’s changing in Texas, especially.
Shahan said the company ships “a lot of bees” – alive each week by U.S. Postal Service or UPS. Each box has 3 pounds of bees and a queen along sugar water when it arrives. It’s a tricky feat; but people need to think months ahead in this business.
“Spring time is when people should start new colonies. If someone wants to start a new colony with BeeWeaver queens, they need to order their bees in September. The way beekeeping works, bees don’t start building up their colonies until springtime. So you pre-order in September, saving your spot to get some bees, but we don’t ship until the first week of April,” Shahan says.
“People are getting on board with beekeeping. That’s why my job was created. There are so many beekeepers in Central Texas and there are only a few courses. I’m not aware of anyone else who offers one-on-one courses like I do. There is a movement towards beekeeping in Central Texas.”
Younger people seem to be taking an keen interest in beekeeping, what used to be considered an older person’s vocation. While owning one’s own queen bee may be causing a buzz worldwide, in Austin overall interests in growing and crafting ones own food sources reign supreme, he says.
“At one time, all the beekeepers were older, farming men who had been beekeepers for decades and owned thousands of hives. Today, the new beekeeper is your middle-aged or young person who has heard about the loss of all the bees around the country and in the world and typically keep just a few hives. They’re interested in helping keep the bee population healthy,” Shahan says. “And in Austin, more young people are interested in growing and sustaining their own food supplies.”
• Apiary – a bee yard that includes bees, hives and equipment used for their sustainabilityBeekeeper terminology:
• Beehive – a place where a colony of bees live and thrive, human made or nature made
- Beeswax – secretions from a worker bee’s body used to build a comb
- Brood – a name for immature bees who live inside the cells of a comb
- Comb – a mass of six-sided sells that contains the brood, as well as stored honey
- Drone – the male honey bee
- Dearth – a feeder containing a 1:1 ratio of sugar water for bees in a human-made bee hive
- Honey – a sweet material produced by bees from the nectar of flowers that contains both minerals, vitamins, proteins and enzymes
- Hive beetle – a destructive pest of honey bee colonies, they cause damage to the comb, pollen, and honey
- Langstroth hive –a style of human-made bee hive only a few centuries old that features a box designed from wood with a series of ten removable frames inside it, all covered by a canopy or roof with one entrance in or out.
- Larva – a white, legless, grub-like insect and the second stage of a bee’s metamorphosis
- Life cycle – the development of a bee from an egg to an adult, when it leaves its cell, takes a total of 21 days including: a) hatching = 3 days, b) larva = 5 days, c) pupa = 13 days.
- Nuc hive – a smaller size human-made bee hive made from a wooden box with only five frames inside it, built Langstroth style.
- Scouts – worker bees that search for a new home hive
- Smoker – a device that produces a flameless, cool smoke that subdues bees in a hive by masking the scent of a beekeeper as well as the alarm pheromones of the colony’s bees
- Stinger – the barb at the end of the abdomen of a bee that contains the apitoxin and results in the release of “alarm pheromones” and the insect’s fatality
- Swarm – a collection of a single queen, drones and worker bees that leave a colony to await a new home hive to be discovered by scouts
- Top-bar hive – a several thousand years-old style of human-made hive created from wood or other materials for the purpose of beekeeping, designed with a series of removable wood slats each anywhere from 1.25 to 1.38 inches wide placed on top.
- Queen – a female bee with a complete reproductive system that lays all of the fertilized eggs in a hive