The Libby Friends of the Library and library staff hosted the first Lunch and Learn at the Lincoln County Library’s Libby branch Tuesday afternoon with an informative presentation on bees and their role in food production.
Angie McLaury, of McLaury’s Apiaries, delivered a presentation to library patrons about how operations work at her honey business. The library provided cookies, cakes and drinks while some of the guests chose to bring their own lunch.
McLaury and her family own over 4,200 colonies of bees and work them across several states. While the bees cover several orchards throughout the northwest, she said they are mainly used to pollinate almonds, and they pollinate over 1,700 acres of almonds in California.
McLaury’s crew must move the bees between states and orchards in order to give them an ample amount of plants to pollinate. The only time the crew is able to do this is at night.
“We move them mainly at night, it’s the only time to move bees,” said McLaury. “Because everyone comes home at night. We pick them up, move the house; you have to get them set before the sun comes up because they get themselves oriented with that sun.
A bee has a built-in GPS unit inside them and they orient themselves with the sun when they have to go out and find nectar or follow their water,” she said.
In order to move the hives onto and off of a truck, the crew has to use forklifts. Because of the specialized work it takes to move the bees, McLaury said each of her sons had to make their own when they were 12 years old.
She said the boys used the insides of combines for their hydraulics and basically had to figure out the schematics of a forklift on their own.
A lot of other equipment that the family uses are specially made too, such as a specialized screen designed to take the pollen off of the “elbows” of a bee so the pollen can be harvested for consumption.
McLaury showed the group a jar of bee pollen her company processes and sells. The pollen is an array of vibrant colors, each color representing the flower a bee had pollinated. McLaury suggests eating the pollen, but warned to start off slow so as not to overwhelm the body.
“You eat this as a dietary supplement,” said McLaury. “It has all your complex B vitamins to help build up your immune system.”
McLaury warned the group about a huge crash in the population of honeybees, but reassured them that her bees are doing fine. She said as a result of the bee crash, bee theft has escalated.
“Bee rustling is alive and well today,” said McLaury. “All the orchards that we are in, we are actually behind a locked gate with a key. (The orchard owners) don’t want anything to happen to the bees because they are what assures them to have a crop.”
McLaury presented a homemade film showing the process of placing baby bees into what is called a “nook.” Once the baby bees are placed into the nook, a queen bee will be placed in each one of them as well.
She said a bee colony is completely run by female bees. The male bees are strictly there for procreation.
McLaury said the purchase of the queens alone could run upwards into the thousands of dollars.
“We did $126,000 worth of queens last year,” McLaury said. “They cost about $22 to $24 apiece, and that’s if they are available.”
Every time the bees are moved from one state to the next, McLaury said it takes two weeks. In the winter, she has to find a place to store the bees since they do not produce during the winter months.
“Some people put them in a barn where they have room to fly around,” said McLaury. “February is usually the time you see more of the Colony Collapse Disease.”
CCD is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappears and leaves behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees. Within minutes after abandoning the hive, the bees will die.
In the summer time McLaury said her crew could go as long as 72 hours without sleep trying to get the bees staged to work.
McLaury said the bees have been known to over-work as well. There have been times her crew has had to remove bees from an orchard because of over-pollination.
“Sometimes we’ll have bees in there maybe two-or-three days and the (orchard owners) want them back out,” said McLaury. “Sometimes my guys are doing double-time, they’re pulling them out of the cherries that morning and putting them in the apples that night.”
McLaury wrapped the session up by explaining the medicinal benefits of honey such as, bacteria cannot live in honey and raw honey can be stored indefinitely. McLaury Apiaries sells their honey locally and can be found in several shops in Libby. They can also be contacted by phone at 406.293.3022 or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mclaurysapiaries.