Without bees and other pollinators, most of the fruits and vegetables we eat would never grow. And honeybee populations have been under stress and in decline for years. Dr. Rob Brooks began an initiative with Lawrence Parks & Recreation to trap and rescue local swarms of honeybees.
A senior trainer and consultant with META, Rob began working with bees when he was 8. Bees interested him so much that he got a PhD in Entomology with bees as his specialty. Rob has written 3 books and around 50 papers on the subject.
Honeybees are pollinators. They carry pollen from the male part of the plant to the female part of the plant. As a result of this process, plants grow fruits and seeds and produce new plants. Farmers rely on honeybees to do this work. Much of the food we eat depends on this relationship between plants and the pollinators who pollinate them. Rob says, “Every third bite that we eat, if it's not a grain, is from a pollinated food source. And the main pollinator in the world is honeybees.”
For years now, honeybees – and other pollinators – have been under threat from mites, pesticides, and changing habitats and climate. This, in turn, threatens our food sources. Cities like Lawrence, Kansas, allow people to keep honeybees in city limits. This is a good thing. But many pest control businesses do not relocate bees. Rob noticed that when the bee colonies swarmed, or split, bees often wound up in houses, where they were exterminated.
Swarm season begins every year around early May. A honeybee colony will split in half. A new queen hatches and remains in the old hive with half of the worker bees. The old queen and the rest of the workers leave to find a new home. This is the swarm.
Rob’s traps are designed to catch swarming honeybees. Rob says “there are several secrets to make these traps so attractive that they want to go into the box rather than into a tree hole” or a house. If built well, the traps can be reused year after year. This year, Rob has placed 16 of the traps in parks around Lawrence.
The traps have caught 17 or 18 swarms since May. By weighing the traps before and after catching the honeybees, Rob figures he’s caught about 90 pounds of bees. He estimates that’s around 450,000 bees. “That's enough bees to pollinate about 100 acres of almonds.” Rob puts the trapped swarms into new hives where the bees can be cared for.
Rob is applying for an FDA grant to help support his honeybee initiative. He wants to build a website that explains the project and offers training on how to replicate it. And Rob plans on expanding the program to nearby cities, then beyond. He is mentoring a new generation of beekeepers who are helping with the initiative.
Plant bee-friendly plants, perennials, and trees. Plants in the mint and sunflower families are good. Rob also recommends trees. “Trees are actually a better source of nectar or pollen than plants are.” Basswood, or linden, is a great tree for bees. And if a swarm of bees does land on your property, see if you can find someone to relocate them.
The Lawrence Journal-World recently wrote about Rob’s initiative. You can find that article here.
For a list of people who remove bee swarms in Kansas, click here.