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If you look at most any list of “best beekeeping practices,” you will probably find this item:

Remove old comb from the hive and replace it on a regular basis.

It’s one of those items that gives people like us — who are trying to be good beekeepers — a guilty conscience. We may remove old comb, but it’s not likely that we do it regularly or have any system about it.

But it could be that in not being aggressive about removing old comb, we have been doing the right thing all along.

My thinking has been directed this way as I have been considering the presentation that Jim Tew made to the Blount County Beekeepers Association in August. Tew is a retired beekeeping expert for Ohio State University and is now working with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service.

In one of this presentations to the BCBA, Tew talked about what he had found over the years in feral hives. The bees would often build long combs, the lower part of which was dark and apparently unused — just like the old combs that we have in our hives. We’re not sure what this “old” comb is used for, he said, but it could be storage or it could be that this wax absorbs toxins and allows other parts of the hive to stay clear and clean.

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This won’t be any surprise to beekeepers or people who know anything about bees:

About 20 percent of the worker bees do most of the foraging. And when these foraging bees need to be replaced, other workers step into those roles.

Click on the image to see the New York Times video.

Click on the image to see the New York Times video.

This short video (1:32) from the New York Times makes that point and shows how scientists at the University of Illinois are tracking this social mobility behavior.

While it is sometimes useful to relate the behavior of bees to that of human beings, those comparisons may, in fact, limit our ability to understand what bees are really like.

Bees are insects. They are, as Jim Tew reminded us in August, wild animals. While we think of them as domesticated because we keep them in hives we build, that’s really not what they are.

Bees have a social system, one that works superbly well. The worker bees are equipped to do a variety of jobs inside and outside the hive, and they do those jobs as they see fit.

But to refer to them as “socially mobile” may be taking the bees-to-humans references a little too far.

Key words: social mobility of bees, beehives, social system of bees, worker bees, foraging, Jim Tew, Ohio State University, Alabama Cooperative Extension, jobs of the worker bees, University of Illinois, research on bees

We recently posted a short piece on the fact that bees need water, and it’s up to the beekeeper to make sure they have it.

This is a good follow-up to that post — especially since it reminds us that bees need water, no matter what season of the year.

The video below has our friend Jim Tew commenting on a short video he took of bees foraging for water, and he asks the question we don’t often ask (probably because it seems to obvious), “What are the bees doing when they forage for water?”

A couple of his comments:

  • You notice the abdomen of the bee pulsing when they are at the water. Are they somehow pumping the water in?
  • Are they getting more than water? Some have speculated that bees are also picking up trace amounts of minerals and natural salts they need.
  • They said near the water rather than in the water, it is thought, so as not to get their wings wet.


Water Foragers from osba on Vimeo.


Key words: bees and water, bees need water, beekeepers providing water for their bees, foraging for water, Jim Tew, Ohio State University, bees, beehives

What’s the inside of a natural beehive like? According to beekeeping expert, it’s quite different from the hives that we construct for our bees.

In the video below, Tew draws out the comparison.

Tew spoke to the Blount County Beekeepers Association  on Aug. 11, 2014), and the five-minute video segment below is part of one of his presentations.

Tew talked about the many differences between places where the bees make their own home and the boxes that we build for them. For instance:

  • Ventilation in a natural hive can be almost non-existent.
  • The old, dark comb is like a human live, absorbing toxic chemical and other substance.
  • Old comb can hold moisture to be released when it is needed by the bees.
  • A “bottom eco-system” exists under the nest — something we completely eliminate in our Langstroth hives.
  • Seeing drones in hard winter “is not a mistake.” Are the bees making a genetic contribution to the environment?



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Bees build hives in trees and elsewhere without the thought that this will be their “permanent” home, according to beekeeping expert Jim Tew.

Tew spoke to the Blount County Beekeepers Association August meeting on Aug. 11. One of his presentations concerned why colonies are “stressed,” and in explaining that he talked about what happens when bees build their own hives.

This five-minute video shows that part of the presentation:



Tew made the following points:

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Beekeeping is different from what it was 30 years ago, and bees seem to need a lot more “babysitting.”

Beekeeping expert and author Jim Tew made that point at the beginning of his second presentation to the Blount County Beekeepers Association on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. (Read our article published just after his presentation.)

Below is a short video of that presentation. (The video is not high quality, but the audio is more than sufficient.)

In the introduction made the following points:

  • Maybe we’re looking in the wrong places as we are trying to figure out what’s wrong with today’s bees.
  • We may need to re-think our equipment and management techniques.
  • Bees seem to need a lot more attention from beekeepers than they used to.



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Jim Tew’s presentations to the Blount County Beekeepers Association meeting on Monday provoked my thinking about the responsibilities we take on when we call ourselves beekeepers.

So just what are those responsibilities?

A honeybee on a buckwheat bloom

A honeybee on a buckwheat bloom

To my mind, there are three:

Providing a home for the bees . . .

. . . as long as they will accept it. We should do everything possible to help them do what they are built to do. We should do it as gently and as naturally as possible. One of the main things we can do is provide them with an immediate environment that is clean and abundant with healthy sources of nutrition and material for hive building.


Learning all we can . . .

. . . about these fascinating creatures. We have placed the label on bees of “superorganism,” and indeed that’s what a bee is. We have begun to unlock a few of their secrets, but as Jim Tew pointed out on Monday, there are many things we do not know. Bees have been around for millions of years. They have survived pests, climate changes and even human interventions. Honeybees have built social systems that are complex and adaptable. How have these little creatures done all that? As beekeepers, we should continue to seek answers and support those who do.


Advocating for bees . . .

. . . and other pollinators. Today’s environment is difficult for them, and we should be doing everything we can to serve them just as they serve us.

Even is someone is not committed to the first of these responsibilities — providing a home for the bees — that person can be a beekeeper in a true sense by undertaking the second and third.


Key words: Jim Tew, Blount County Beekeepers Association, responsibilities of beekeepers, beekeeping, advocating for bees, superorganism, pollinators, difficult environment for bees

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.
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Jim Tew

A nationally known bee expert will headline the August meeting of the Blount County Beekeepers Association.

Jim Tew, currently the beekeeping specialist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, will be the main speaker at the meeting, which will be on Monday, August 11, at 6:30 p.m. in the Blount County Library.

Jim has been around beekeeping for many years and will discuss good beekeeping practices. This is a presentation that no beekeeper in the area – veteran or rookie – will want to miss.

In 2011 Jim 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.

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Blount County Beekeepers Association

Join us

If you’re interested in joining the Blount County Beekeepers Association, call

Dale Hinkle
423-261- 5234


Kathy Flaherty
203-314- 0270


Welcome to the web site of the Blount County Beekeepers Association in Maryville, Tennessee.

This site will tell you a little about the association and how to become a member. It will also tell you a little about beekeeping.

Bees are an important part of our environment and particularly our agricultural system. They are also fascinating creatures.

We hope you will be interested enough to join us at some point, even if you're not interested in keeping bees. There are lots of ways you can join in with what we do.

Follow us on Twitter at @blountbees.

Schedule of BCBA meetings for 2019

The Blount County Beekeepers Association meets on the second Monday of every month, except for September and December, at 6:30 p.m. at the Maryville Church of Christ, 611 Sherwood Drive in Maryville.

All of the meetings are open to the public, and anyone interested in learning more about beekeeping is welcome and encouraged to attend.

The following is the schedule of meetings and activities for 2018:

January 14 – regular meeting

February 11 – regular meeting

February 16 – BCBA short course for new beekeepers

TBA– New Beekeepers class

March 11 – regular meeting

March 17 -Wooden Ware class

April 8 – regular meeting

April  27-Field Day for new beekeepers

May 13 – regular meeting

June 10 – regular meeting

July 8 – regular meeting

August 12 – regular meeting

October 14 – regular meeting

November 11 – regular meeting

December 9 – Christmas dinner

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