ORANGE GROVE, Texas — Michael Leidner is the owner and operator of South Texas Apiaries in Orange Grove, and has been keeping bees for ten years.
Prior to February’s Big Freeze, Leidner has about 100 beehives, with several thousand bees in each hive. Leidner lost ten hives as a result of the freeze, and saw one thing he wanted to combat from people trying to help wild and domesticated bees: feeding them.
“If we artificially feed them, especially during a time when there naturally is not feed, where their natural response would’ve been to slow down, conserve resources, now they’re burning resources looking for that,” he said.
Leidner said the feeding of bees is an issue typically during the winter, but was even more of an issue following the big freeze. He said people would put out things like honey and nectars, that have artificial ingredients in them, and were harmful for the bees. Not only that, he said putting out artificial feeds can bring bees from farther than they would normally travel, and bring bees together from different hives, which can spread disease.
For Leidner, bees are a livestock, he tends to them, feeds them, and makes a living thanks to them.
“As a beekeeper, I want to know what my bees are eating. I don’t feed random cows on the side of the road I see, it’s kind of the same concept with the bees. As a beekeeper, it’s my responsibility to manage those bees, just like it is for that rancher with his cattle, make sure they have good grass, good hay. I have to make sure my bees have the feed they need, if they need artificial feed, I feed them directly, in their hive, where it’s the bees that need it that are getting it, and not other ones,” he said.
While the issue is not as severe in the spring, because plants start to bloom and food sources are plentiful, once winter comes back around, the issue will return.
“It’s something that makes us feel good, when you’re at home, and you don’t have bees yourself, but, ‘hey I can feed those bees,’ you’re thinking, at the end of the day it actually hurts us more than it helps us, just because we as the beekeeper don’t know what’s happening, and don’t know that that’s happening,” Leidner said.
Leidner said if people wish to help the bees and other local pollinators, plant native plant species, or put a natural water fixture, like a fountain, in your yard.
Leidner also said people can help local beekeepers in the Coastal Bend by buying locally and directly from the source. He said many local grocery stores do not truly have local honey, more likely honey that was bottled in Texas, and buying directly from beekeepers allows them to continue their business.