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Bee Kind the Honey Bees of Birmingham

You might think honey bees have been having “a moment” in the last handful of years, but for the Jefferson County Beekeepers Association, that moment has lasted decades – as far back as the 1960s, according to Dr. Michael Steinkampf, current association president, who said “there are members who have been keeping bees since before [he] was born.” A lively mix of young professionals, retirees, farmers, office workers and “anyone who enjoys having a hive in the backyard,” the JCBA works diligently to protect bees, educate others on the importance of bees and keep abreast of bee-related news and research. 

Honey bees continue to be in jeopardy for various reasons, and colony loss for beekeepers last year was about 40%, according to Dr. Steinkampf. Because a colony has only one queen bee at a time, the health of the queen is of utmost importance. Though a queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day, if her reproductive capacity diminishes, the whole colony can cease to exist. In some cases, if the colony notices a failing queen, they can raise a new queen by feeding a female larvae royal jelly — a special blend of carbohydrates, lipids and vitamins — for a longer period of time. 

Besides a failing queen, colonies can also die out due to the presence of the varroa mite, a parasite that Asian bees have adapted to handle, but European bees still struggle with.

How and why to help the bees

Even if you aren’t in the position to have a beehive of your own, there are things you can do as a consciousness homeowner to protect honey bees around your landscape.

First, don’t mow the grass constantly or pull up wildflowers obsessively — bees love to feast on dandelions, for example, and can obtain nourishing pollen and nectar from these and other so-called weeds. 

Another kind thing to do for the bees is to plant flowering shrubs, especially those that bloom in early spring or late summer, according to Dr. Steinkampf, who suggested camellias, early blooming cherry trees and bush honeysuckle. 

“These are all good for times it’s tough to find pollen and nectar to bring back to the hive,” he noted. 

Gardening enthusiasts, in particular, should aim to keep bees around frequently, as plenty of plants rely on bee pollination to produce tasty victuals such as blueberries, peppers, cucumbers and more. 

And, while those who are allergic to bees probably should not own a hive, there’s no reason to fear bees buzzing around a colorful backyard. 

“In general, bees sting to defend their colonies. If they’re away from their colonies, they are far less defensive. A bee-friendly yard is generally safe,” said Dr. Steinkampf. 

Bee Informed - A Few Buzzworthy Facts 

There are between 6,000 and 8,000 honey bee colonies in the state of Alabama. 

California has the most honey bee colonies in the United States — more than 600,000, many of which arrive by truck from other states to pollinate crops. 

Because of Alabama law, you can import bee “packages” — which is one thing the Jefferson County Beekeepers Association does — but not fully mature colonies, due to the potential for disease. 

Because flowers growing in the North have a shorter growing period, they produce nectar more aggressively to attract the area’s bees, and more honey is produced as a result. North Dakota is the top-producing state in the country for honey. 

Want to get involved with the Jefferson County Beekeepers Association? Visit

Want to take an online course for beginners about bees and beekeeping? Visit

Want to keep up with education and research? Visit

  • Left to right, queen bee, drone bee, worker bee