Red Beard Bees

Beekeeper Dave Noble
Beekeeper Dave Noble's business, Red Beard Bees, was born of the pandemic. He not only sells local honey and bees and queens he has bred, but also does extensive education and training for other beekeepers. He maintains 65 hives near his home in the Whitehall suburb of Columbus, plus other areas of central Ohio. (Submitted photo)

Dave Noble was majoring in plant pathology and minoring in entomology at The Ohio State University. Then he started working in the university’s honey bee lab, where there was groundbreaking research on breeding and genetics going on. “I never touched plants again,” he told his audience at the University of Mount Union’s Huston-Brumbaugh Nature Center, where he spoke March 20. 

Noble has been working with bees for 25 years, including 10 at the OSU lab and, later, as a beekeeper at a nature center. He started Red Beard Bees — named for his facial hair — in 2020. It now includes 65 colonies, or hives, in the Whitehall suburb of Columbus where he lives, and in other parts of central Ohio. 

But the business isn’t just about selling honey. It also involves a lot of education and training for other beekeepers, plus selling bees and queens he has bred. In breeding, he selects for high honey production and gentleness, based on the performance of the hive. 

He looks for gentleness because “I go out there in a T-shirt and shorts” rather than wearing a protective suit, he explained. 

The business is also about using science and good practices to increase honey bee numbers. “Losing 10 percent of honey bee colonies per year would be acceptable, but on average we’re losing 30 percent,” Noble said. “If we couldn’t replace them, we’d be down to zero. But a good honey bee producer can turn one hive into three or four.” 

At least 20,000 bees is what you need to keep the queen alive and the hive functioning, he said. But the number of honey bees in each hive varies with the time of year. In June, there could be 60,000 to 80,000 per hive. 

“Today we’re going to talk about why honey bees are the weirdos, why they don’t fit in with other bees,” Noble told the audience. 


Or with their close relative, the wasp. Although they also collect nectar, wasps are predators, omnivores (they eat both plants and flesh) and parasitic, which means some lay their eggs in other creatures, like caterpillars. 

“Bees are basically cool, hipster, vegetarian wasps,” Noble said.”They’ve moved on to drinking coffee and wearing skinny jeans.” 

Insects need both protein and carbohydrates, he said. Bees get all their protein from plants. Blossoming flowers produce pollen, which bees gather on their many hairs and carry in pouches on their legs or abdomens. 

“We think of bees as being altruistic, pollinating our plants and crops,” Noble said. “They’re actually trying to take as much pollen as they possibly can back to their larvae.” 

There are more than 20,000 species of bees worldwide, between 4,000 and 5,000 in North America, and between 400 and 500 in Ohio, he said. “In those 20.000 species, what is the average bee like?” Noble asked. “Very different from the honey bee.” 

Life cycle

For the majority of bees, adults dig a nest in the ground, fill the nest with pollen, then lay an egg. The egg hatches, the larva eats the pollen and becomes a pupa, which then becomes an adult. 

The time between the egg and pupa stages takes 10 or 11 months, while adults live only two to eight weeks. So the majority of bees live about a year, and most of their life cycle is spent underground, he said. 

Another difference is that the average bee is solitary, while honey bees are social, living together and depending on each other for survival. Noble showed a video of a bee digging a nest in the ground and said another bee was doing the same thing about a foot away. “They don’t help each other,” he said. “If they do live in the same area, it’s more like apartment living.” 

The majority of bees are also specialists, gathering pollen or nectar from only one or two types of plants. Honey bees are generalists, gathering from whatever plants are available. And honey bees are domesticated, whereas the majority of bees are wild. 

“I treat the hive as an animal,” Noble said. “Honey bees are actually livestock.” 


Each hive is named for the queen. No Elizabeths or Victorias; it’s more like R20 and R21. 

He breeds queens the natural way rather than using artificial insemination like they did in the OSU lab. “That requires a lot of time indoors, and I prefer to be outdoors,” he said. 


Each hive consists of a queen, drones and workers. The drones and workers are brothers and sisters, drones being the males. They are the result of unfertilized eggs that the queen lays, “which is also weird; an unfertilized egg turning into a viable animal. But they do,” Noble said. 

The drones are larger than the workers and are sometimes hard to tell from the queen. They have bigger wings and bigger eyes than their sisters. The drone’s eyes also meet at the top of its head, whereas the worker’s eyes have a huge gap in between. 

Each drone has only one set of chromosomes, all from his mother. Because he gets all of his DNA from the queen, he’s basically carrying all the genes of the queen in his sperm. The drone’s only job is to leave the hive and mate with other queens. This is done in midair, at least 30 or 40 feet above the ground. When they’re done mating, the drones die. Of course, the vast majority of drones don’t mate, Noble said. 

At the end of the season, their sisters kick them out because they’ve outlived their usefulness and are a drain on the hive’s energy, namely the honey. If there are some drones that won’t leave, their sisters kill them. 

The queen limits her midair mating to the first 12 days of her life, then never mates again. Instead, she stores the sperm in a special gland and uses it as needed. 

“A colony of honey bees can have 30 or 40 fathers,” Noble said. 

The queen doesn’t have pollen baskets on her legs and can barely feed herself, so her daughters do that for her. They also bring in pollen and nectar to nourish the hatching larvae, then build the wax and make the honey to feed themselves and everyone else in the hive. 

No wonder they’re called workers. The fact that they do that makes for another big difference between “the average bee” and honey bees. 

Most bees only live about a year, then the next generation takes over. If there’s enough food in the hive — which can include artificial pollen that beekeepers feed them — honey bees can live through the winter. 

“That makes the average bee like an annual plant, whereas honey bees are like perennials,” Noble said. 

Beekeeper Dave Noble
Dave Noble shows a photo of some of his honey bee hives in winter during his talk at the University of Mount Union’s nature center. Taken with a thermal imaging device, the photo shows where the bees are clustered together in the hive. Honey bees vibrate their muscles to stay warm, keeping the temperature of the hive between 88 and 98 degrees even when outside temperatures are below freezing. (Barbara Mudrak photo)


Yet another difference is that honey bees are the only bees that can make real honey. Honey is less than 17 percent water, and when sealed in a container, it will not, cannot spoil. 

Other bees can generate a kind of nectar, but it has more water and can go bad, Noble said. 


Honey bees are native to Asia, Africa and Europe. They were brought to the Caribbean around 1650, then to the English colonies and later to the West Coast. They were brought to the Americas not too long after Old World crops were introduced. 

“Apple yields were anemic till the honey bees arrived, so they were brought over to service crops,” he said. 

In the 1700s, scientists began to understand bee biology, and in the 1800s, they began breeding, selecting for honey production and against bad behaviors, like swarming and stinging. 

Modern hives were patented in 1851, allowing beekeepers to harvest honey without causing harm to the bees. “Before that, they had to cut out part of the comb, which was very destructive,” Noble said. “For each pound of wax they make, the bees have to consume five to 10 pounds of honey.” 

With removable frames, beekeepers can just cut the peaks off of the honeycomb, harvest the excess honey, then put the rest back for the bees to eat. 

While honey production is a huge industry, farmers have also become more dependent on honey bees for pollinating fruit, vegetables and seed crops. “This dependence sprang from agricultural practices that destroy wild pollinating insects,” Noble said. “A lot of my friends do pollinator contracts with local farmers.” 

However, being captive and domesticated, honey bees don’t help increase populations of wild pollinators. “Raising honey bees to help pollinators is like raising chickens to help songbirds” is Noble’s favorite saying. 

There are three major threats to honey bees: Varroa mites, loss of habitat and pesticides, “in that order,” he said. “Honey bees have a surprising ability to overcome the effects of pesticides, plus it’s not practical to call for the end of pesticide use.” 

Varroa mites spread viruses and disease, and they feed on the fat deposits of both larvae and adults. This depletes the honey bees’ energy reserves so they might not live through the winter, even if they have plenty to eat. Yet while mites might be the biggest threat, “they’re basically a beekeeping issue. We just need more good beekeepers to get rid of them,” Noble said. 


But anyone and everyone can help with the other major cause of honey bee decline: Habitat loss. Just by increasing the number of native plants in their yards, homeowners will routinely be able to spot between 12 and 15 species of bees, Noble said. 

However, not enough people who plant pollinator gardens include late-blooming native plants. Most plants flower and bloom in the spring and farmers usually cut hay fields “before the big bloom,” he said. 

Late-blooming plants such as coneflowers produce more nectar and can sustain honey bees — and other kinds of bees and pollinators — longer into the fall. 

“I love bees in general, honey bees in specific,” Noble told his audience. And he didn’t seem to care if that made him seem a little weird. 


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  1. Thank you Red Beard. I also love honey bees. I wanted to start my own but in reading on how to raise them isn’t as easy as I thought. Thank you for the info on late blooming flowers. This year I will Definitely plant some for the honey bees


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