As a youngster, Alice Casey drew pictures of bees and loved to learn about bees in science class. Then one day she bought a bee hive. That was in 2014 and the beekeeper hasn’t looked back since.
Barbara Hill has known Casey for several years and calls her a dedicated beekeeper.
“I am hoping she becomes the third VP of NWNJBA during the election process at our upcoming holiday party — she deserves it,” says Hill, the branch treasurer.
Casey’s affection for bees stems from the fact that she wants to save them.
“We gotta keep them going because if we lose the bees one-third of our food’ll be lost,” she says. “They pollinate our fruits and vegetables; cranberries, blueberries — and everything bees make is utilized.”
As a mentor to aspiring beekeepers in Hunterdon and Warren counties, Casey can help anyone interested in getting started by ordering bee equipment/supplies and a package of bees.
“She is constantly increasing her knowledge of beekeeping but also mentoring many along the way,” says Hill, owner and founder of Amberfield Honey Farm, in Ringoes.
“She pretty much lives and breathes bees,” the Easton, PA beekeeper says, adding that she took her friend’s interest in stride and had one of her own. “Alice is just one of those cool people that doesn’t surprise you about anything they do.”
Wallen is a member of Northwest New Jersey and Lehigh Valley Beekeepers but is much more active in NWNJ.
“I think it’s a tighter group of people and one of the reasons for that is Alice. She really gets people excited about beekeeping, encouraged me and helped me along the entire way,” Wallen says.
She calls her friend an all-around great person.
“She’s not overbearing with her mentoring, which I think is important,” says The Wallen Mountain Farm owner. “I don’t think I would have succeeded in beekeeping without Alice there to help me. It’s really hard and complicated and so varied.”
The bees are usually shipped from Florida or Georgia in a truckload of three-pound boxes with a queen in each box.
She goes on her mating flight with up to 15 to 18 drones and lays 2,000 eggs a day.
According to Wallen, only about three to five percent of the hive are drones (male bees).
“They kick them out in the fall because they don’t do anything except mate with the queen and she only mates once in her life,” Wallen says. “But you never know when you’re going to need a drone around to impregnate a new queen ‘cause something could happen to her.”
The older bees forage out to collect pollen and nectar and then return to the hive.
“Younger bees usually nurse the queen bee and groom and feed her, protect her and they’re very attentive,” Casey says.
She’s chair of the Warren County Fair and helps New Jersey apiarist, Tim Schuler judge the Hunterdon County Fair honey shows. For several years she’s also attended the Eastern Apicultural Society conference.
And she got her friend involved in the honey shows, where Casey took first place and Wallen took third at Hunterdon for their light amber honey. At Warren, Casey also took first and Wallen took second in the same class.
“Alice is a tireless worker for the bees and was instrumental in upgrading our beekeeping booths at both the Warren County Fair in Belvedere and the Hunterdon 4H Fair in Ringoes,” Hill says.
Wallen echoes that sentiment.
She recognizes the beauty and brilliance of bees, and how they figured out the hexagon was the formation to put the queen’s abdomen in to make the eggs. The six-sided shape fits together perfectly and can store pollen and honey.
One thing we can’t do is treat them like pets. But Casey says we can take steps to help safeguard the bees.
“We can reduce using harmful pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides,” she says. “Avoid the chemicals, the neonicotines. We have to protect their habitats.”
Casey says do that by planting bee-friendly gardens, including: maple trees, wild onions, asters, dogwood, columbine, *milkweed, daisies, mistflowers, nut trees, Joe-Pye Weed, violets, roses, irises and *goldenrod.
“Another thing they need a lot especially when it’s hot in the summer is little bee baths,” she says. “We put buckets of water with sticks or twigs or leaves in it so they can get water (without drowning).”
And in the fall we need more Spanish knotweed or mountain mint.
Once you receive your bees, it’s time to put them in the hive and your mentor can help with that.
Many bee aficionados keep their hives close by, which is what Casey says she does.
“Just see how your neighbors are,” she says. “Some neighbors welcome bees and most of them do support the bees.”
If you get the all-clear for your bees — remember that every queen bee has a pheromone. She stays in the hive and the bees go out and they come back to the same hives because they smell the queen.
“Bees can fly three to five miles away from their hive,” Casey says. “So when people say, ‘organic’ I tend to worry. Your farm may be organic but is your farm five miles in every direction circumference wise, so you gotta think about that when you say organic.
“And you don’t know what your bees are eating or bringing in.”
According to Casey, in the spring the bees go out and forage the pollen (their protein), the nectar — in trees, bushes, weeds, dandelions, buttercups, crocuses, everything that blooms first, things you cut out of your grass.
“That’s why my grass always looks like it needs cutting,” she says. “Part of my grass, I’m feeding my bees.”
When they bring back the nectar, Casey says it stays in their wings until it solidifies into honey and permeates the cells of the honeycomb.
The process includes selecting the frames ready to be harvested and scraping the wax off the frames.
Next, put the frames in an extractor (it can hold approximately nine frames) and as the reels spin it creates a centrifugal force. The honey is whipped out of the comb and accumulates inside the extractor. Then open the tap and let it pass through a strainer in the honey pots to filter out the wax and other small particles.
“A lot of people like to watch that and do it with you,” Casey says. “I always try to get a new beekeeper in with me so they can learn the process. It could take a couple of hours to all day, depending on how much you have. A five-gallon bucket would be about 55 to 60 pounds of honey.”
At the same time, Wallen says you don’t want to take too much honey.
“You gotta make sure you leave some for the bees,” she says. “The bees have a spring/early summer nectar flow, then they have a fall nectar flow.”
Casey says often people complain about the price of honey because they have no concept of what getting it entails.
“You have to buy the bees, the hives, the frames, the bee suit, all the equipment, the extractor, the knives, the bottles, the labels,” she says. “That’s why it costs a lot but raw honey tastes a lot better than the ones you buy in the stores.”
When it comes to beekeeping, it’s really a personal preference how you handle them. Some people just use the bees to pollenate.
“A lot of big farms, bee farms or apiaries may have 300 hives and put them all on a truck in New Jersey and bring them out to California to the almond trees and the farmers out there like that,” Casey says. “Then they pack them up and bring them down to Florida. They transport their bees from area to area.”
Others like their bees for the honey.
The little creatures survive the winter by staying active and clustering. But Casey says most only make it six weeks in the summer since they are hard at work. The queen can survive three to four years because she’s constantly being catered to by all the female worker bees.
Once you make the decision to pursue an interest in beekeeping, remember that safety comes first.
“There’s a full bee suit, which would include a hood (or veil), you can wear gloves and people wear boots even,” Casey says. “That’s full protection and nowadays there’s vented suits so you don’t sweat as much because they’re very, very warm and of course you’re doing all this in the G-d awfully hot mid-summer.”
Besides the suit, equipment includes a hive tool and a smoker — used to hold pine needles, paper egg cartons or some sort of fuel.
Some bees are aggressive and others are very calm and docile.
“Sometimes I sit in front of my hives in my little yellow chair and relax,” Casey says. “Sometimes I can go into a hive with just my veil on, no suit and no gloves and work my bees.”
The bees can feel it sometimes if it’s a nice, bright day and respond more calmly. If it’s a cloudy day, they may be a bit more aggressive and if the hive hasn’t been opened in a long time, they may also exhibit aggression, according to Casey. It depends on several variables.
Contrary to popular belief, most bees are not out to sting.
“When people get stung it’s most likely the yellow jacket that is the attacker than the honey bee,” Casey says.
That means don’t disturb — including swatting at them or approaching their nests or hives.
And it’s not as tough as you think to identify the type of bee.
“Sometimes you can tell by the way they’re flying,” Casey says. “Yellow jackets are erratic fliers.”
And if you’re concerned about bees disrupting your summer vacation, she recommends putting something sweet on the other side of your campsite.
Like dogs get fleas, you should treat your bees for mites, according to Casey.
“There are some people that don’t want to treat and that’s a real touchy subject,” she says. “Because we don’t know where your bees go. Say Mikey goes three miles down the road where that man doesn’t treat his hive and he might have mites. And then he comes to my hives and that whole scenario could start.”
There are different species of honey bee and Casey says — Russian honey bees, Carolina honey bees and Italian honey bees are the primary ones used locally in the Garden State.
The beekeeper says she would like to get to the point where we don’t have to treat bees anymore.
“‘Cause they have such a hard life,” she says. “Their predators are us, bears, mites, skunks, raccoons.”
If you want to keep them around for a while, do the right thing.
“Feed your bees, plant bee friendly flowers, protect them, don’t swamp them,” Casey says. “And if you see a swarm, call a beekeeper — don’t spray Raid on them please.”