‘Huge black cloud’ -- Holliman works on moving, saving bees

Free Press / Krista Green Joe Holliman checks out some bees in one of his outdoor hives.

GRANGEVILLE — By Krista Green Special to the Idaho County Free Press

GRANGEVILLE — “It was a huge black cloud over my husband’s pickup parked on the street. I’d never seen anything like it, and my first thought was that it was killer bees.”

The cloud in front of the home on Park Street on a sunny Sunday afternoon was, in fact, a swarm of honey bees. The homeowner had heard that Joe Holliman was a beekeeper, so she called him and he came immediately. By the time he arrived, the swarm had settled into a pine tree across the street, a solid mass of bees hanging from a branch. Within minutes of his arrival, Holliman had gently shaken the ball of bees into a swarm trap and closed the lid.

“The bees left their old hive today because it was overcrowded, and were just looking for a place to start a new one,” Holliman explained.

He pointed to a bee at the small slot entrance of the trap flapping his wings rapidly. “He’s fanning his wings, sending pheromones, or scent signals,” he said. “There are still a lot of bees out scouting around for a new hive location. When they come back, they’ll know where to find the queen.”

Holliman left the box at the site and returned to retrieve it after dark. He had a newly built hive waiting at home.

Joe Holliman has been a hobby beekeeper for about three years. He became interested when he realized that, while bumblebees were plentiful, there were no honey bees at their home in the forested foothills of Grangeville. The Hollimans wanted the pollinators for his wife Carla’s garden.

A talented carpenter, Holliman started researching online for hive designs. He settled on the “Top Bar” style, which was attractive and would enable him to use his considerable craftsman skills. The large hive has a hinged lid and a side window for viewing the workings of the colony. He has built several of the Top Bar hives, but now prefers the more traditional Langsrough hive, composed of stackable boxes, which are easier to move around.

A honey bee colony consists of one queen, several drones (male) and thousands of female worker bees. The queen can live up to five years and spends her days laying one egg after another – about 2,000 eggs per day. The worker bees, which live only about five weeks, build and repair the comb, care for and feed the queen, tend the larva, feed the baby bees and make the honey. The male drones’ only function in the hive is to mate with the queen once. They live about five months.

When a honey bee colony has almost outgrown its hive, the bees produce another queen. The old queen leaves the hive, taking about half the bees – worker bees and drones — with her to establish a new hive. This group of bees is known as a swarm. Swarm season in this area runs from the second week of April to the end of May. Beekeepers such as Holliman watch their own hives carefully during swarm season and have new hives ready for them.

Holliman keeps swarm removal gear in his vehicle, so he doesn’t waste any time getting to the bees before they move on. This spring he has been called to collect honey bees several times, including a swarm in Grangeville’s Heritage Square, a hive from the walls of a building in White Bird and one in a chimney in Craigmont.

The bees make honey by filling cells in the comb with nectar gathered from flowers within a five-mile radius. They fan the area with their wings until the nectar has reached a certain moisture content before sealing the cells. The honey is stored for their winter food as well as nourishment for the baby bees. For this reason, Holliman doesn’t harvest large quantities of the honey for human use.

“I want to save most of it for the bees,” he said.

The taste and color of honey is determined by the plants in the area. Honey from the White Bird area is dark amber and has a rich, full-bodied taste. The forested area around the Holliman home results in honey of a lighter amber. Yellow Starthistle out on the Camas Prairie produces a very sweet, pale yellow honey.

Joe Holliman is passionate about honey bees.

“One of the main reasons I’m into this is to protect bees. They’re more important than most people realize,” he said, recognizing the role bees play as pollinators in the plant kingdom.

Although Holliman considers himself a hands-off beekeeper, “letting bees do what bees do,” he is an ardent observer. This is evidenced by the indoor bee hive in his home. Bees enter through a small hole on the outside of the house and crawl through a PVC tunnel to the hive in the Hollimans’ dining area. The Hollimans and their sons, Wyatt and Hunter, are able to watch the intricate workings of the hive through a bullet-proof glass wall of the hive. A magnifying glass waits nearby for a closer look.

Holliman designed and built the hive. It is completely portable, which makes it ideal for taking to school classrooms for educational presentations.

“My goal is to get others interested in this fascinating hobby,” said Holliman, “therefore helping to ensure the honey bee’s survival.”

For swarm retrieval or to schedule an educational presentation on the honey bee, call Holliman: 451-5495.

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