Just let them 'bee' and they usually will not harm you
  Honeybees are valuable asset to any garden

May 26, 2005
Victoria County
Master Gardener Intern

One of the required activities in a garden is not something we must do, but the job of honeybees, an essential part of nature. Bees are important because they pollinate approximately 130 agricultural crops in the U.S., including fruit, fiber, nut and vegetable. As spring moves into summer and flowers are blooming, one doesn't have to step far to see honeybees at work. Much like your plants in your garden or landscape, the plants blooming at the Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens are attractive to bees. In fact, quite a few bees have been observed the past few weeks.

A honeybee's job goes unseen most of the time, yet it is ever so valuable. The average bee makes about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. A bee must collect nectar from about 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey. Bees carry pollen on their hind legs in what is called a pollen basket; some say that it is a miracle that the bee flies at all because of its body size and wing span. A bee can fly about 20 mph. And bees die when they lose their stingers.

These are just simple facts about bees, but the County Extension office would like to inform the public about them because calls have been received from residents who have once again been alerted to the danger of the Africanized honeybee colonies - commonly called "killer bees." These are bees that are well established in the wild population of honeybees in Texas. The Africanized bee is a bee from Africa that was used for breeding purposes, along with the domestic European honeybee, in South America in 1957 when it escaped and spread northward, reaching the United States in 1991. Nearly 15 years in Texas now, it may cross with European bees but it still possesses the personality problem of its predecessor.

Their looks are the same and you cannot distinguish between the two species unless you are highly trained; however, the average person can tell that Africanized colonies are more defensive about protecting their nests. They respond more quickly to disturbances by people and animals 50 feet or more from the nest. They sense vibrations 100 feet or more from the nest from power equipment, like lawn mowers or line trimmers. Once they think you are a threat, contrary to the European bee, they defend or sting in large numbers. And also contrary to our domestic bee, they will chase an enemy up to a quarter of a mile.

They also have a higher rate of reproduction, which has resulted in them being predominant in South Central Texas.

These bees are very creative and resourceful in the way they nest. Their nests have smaller cavities and sometimes are underground in anything from water meters to animal burrows. They are not picky and can colonize in buckets, cans, empty boxes, old tires or any container as well as infrequently used vehicles, lumber piles, holes and cavities in fences, trees, or sheds, garages and any outbuildings or between walls, low decks or spaces under buildings. Now that just about describes areas in everybody's typical garden and landscape. So stay alert!

Here are some tips to bee proofing your buildings and yard. Remove any potential nesting sites. Inspect outside walls and eaves of your house and other buildings. Seal openings greater than 1/8-inch in walls, around chimneys, plumbing and other openings. Install screens (1/8-inch hardware cloth) over rainspouts, vents, cavities of trees and fence posts. In spring and fall, inspect once or twice per week for bee activity around your house and yard, especially as you get ready to start up lawn maintenance machinery. If you find a colony, don't delay.

Remember that honeybees are nearly everywhere. An occasional bee or even hundreds of bees collecting pollen on flowers are of no harm. They will not sting you unless you capture or harm them. If, however, you see bees entering and exiting a hole as described in the sites above, be extremely cautious. All bees are defensive once they have an established colony, honey or brood. Africanized bees are ever more so defensive - and if they think you are disturbing theem, they will attack. If you find bees on your property, get away as quickly as possible and call a local beekeeper, pest control company or the County Extension office for guidance.

Occasionally you might see a swarm of bees hanging on a branch of a tree or bush around the home. Most likely a colony has divided and the new swarm is out searching for a new nesting area. They will usually stay on that branch for 1-3 days until a suitable site is found. During that time they are not defensive. It is still advisable, though, to just stay away and leave them be; they will be gone shortly.

Should a bee attack you, get away as quickly as possible protecting your face and eyes. Take shelter in an enclosed area. It is not recommended to stand still and swat at bees; rapid movements will cause them to sting. If you are stung, scrape the stinger from your skin with a credit card or something similar. Squeezing it to pull it will simply inject more venom. Most of their venom is released within one minute. Wash the stung area with soap and water to prevent any infection. Apply ice to relieve pain and swelling. You need to seek medical attention if your breathing is difficult, if you are stung many times or if you are allergic to bee stings.

As we go through summer, remind your loved ones, especially the very young and the elderly, that they are the most vulnerable and they need to have a plan in mind should the Africanized bees attack. Your first defense should be to run for cover... run into the house, a building or a car.