Beekeeping expert Tew talks about bees and their environment at August BCBA meeting

Jim Tew told Blount County beekeepers that the environment for bees is a complicated one, and not every plant a bee visits is good for it — and some plants can be downright dangerous.

“So much of this (the environment for bees) is so complicated, that it’s a wonder that bees can do anything at all,” he said.

Tew went on to describe some of the many factors and decisions bees much make in feeding themselves and keeping their hives alive. “Outside the front door of your hive, life is tough,” he said.

He spoke to the August meeting of the Blount County Beekeepers Association on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014in the Blount County Library.

Tew is the beekeeping specialist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service.

Jim Tew speaks to the Blount County Beekeepers Association
Jim Tew speaks to the Blount County Beekeepers Association

Tew also said that . . .

  • People on “the outside” of beekeeping don’t understand the commitment beekeepers have made.
  • Not all plants that produce nectar and pollen welcome the bees being there.
  • There are more “nectaries” in a plant than those around the flower. They occur around stems and leaf nodes. Bees might indeed get nectar from those.
  • Honey is concentrated sugars from the flowers the bees visit. Some sugars from some flowers are of no use to the bees.
  • The bees hold the nectar in their throats while they process this sugar-water nectar they’ve gathered.
  • A typical colony needs 265 pounds of honey a year and 155 pounds during the summer. Beekeepers can take the excess honey.
  • Bees eat propolis more than we realize.

“Every plant is negotiating and bargaining” for visits from the bees, he said.

Tew asked how many people were dealing with varroa and did not get much response from those in the audience. He said the varroa problem seemed to be “calming down,” and a new generation of beekeepers was coming into this realm who weren’t as afraid of varroa as older beekeepers. Consequently, fewer beekeepers are as obsessed with it now or even thinking about it very much.


Jim Tew demonstrates the dangerous environment for bees by taking about the toxic nectars in azaleas.


In 2011 Tew retired after 34 years as the Ohio State Extension Beekeeping Specialist at Ohio State Univ. He has taught and has conducted applied research on honey bees and their behavior, specifically pollination behavior.

He writes monthly articles for Bee Culture and has written two books,Beekeeping Principles and Backyard Beekeeping. He enjoys woodworking, photography and feeding ungrateful birds. He can be reached at:, and

Tew’s second presentation of the evening was about “stress” to colonies. Why are they stressed? he asked.

He quoted a commercial beekeeper in Ohio who said, “My bees require a lot more babysitting than they used to require 30 years ago.”

Tew made the following points:

  • We can’t sustain a 40-50 percent winter kill and “remain a viable industry.”
  • Comb is always perpendicular to its gravitational field. But there is no perfect nesting cavities in nature for the bees.
  • Bees live and work for the short term, for “the immediate future.” “We’re the ones who want bees to live in the same place for year after year,” he said.
  • Most wax foundation is 9 to 10 times the thickness of what the bees would build themselves.
  • The bees’ cells are circles, or cylinders, and they are separated by wax in a hexagonal shape.
  • Bees will naturally abandon old comb.
  • Bees will naturally build a “bottom ecosystem” with lots of things we try to eliminate from the hive — a composing system that could help control varroa.
  • Small hive beetles “slime” the colony, Tew said, and they made the comb un-usable, and “they will ruin your honey.” Most beekeepers don’t have them, but those that do are “bonkers” because there is no standard procedure for combatting them.
  • Why are we seeing drones in the winter? We are seeing more and more of them, and that raises questions to which we have no answers.
  • Bees have traditionally resisted domestication. Bees are migratory. They don’t stay in the same place for long, as we would like for them to do.
  • Bees build from the top. It’s our idea that they should build from the bottom up.


Key words: Jim Tew, Blount County Beekeepers Association, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, Ohio State Extension, Ohio State University, pollination behavior, honey bees, beekeeping, Bee Culture, Beekeeping Principles, Backyard Beekeeping, nectar, pollen, environment for bees, propolis, nectaries, small hive beetles, stress on beehives, wax foundation, bee cells, old comb in beehives, bees build from the bottom up

8 thoughts on “Beekeeping expert Tew talks about bees and their environment at August BCBA meeting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: