Try as we might, there are some things even the most self-sufficient homesteader can’t do. One of those is produce raw sugar (at least the kind we’re used to buying for baking and adding to drinks). Cane sugar requires relatively strict growing conditions that only those in the southernmost hemisphere can enjoy. Unless you live in the Caribbean, Hawaii, or other tropical locations, you are either going to have to buy sugar, not use any sugar, or find a reasonable substitute you can produce on your own.
The good news is that there is such a product that you can create on your property with very little space and time—honey. Not only is honey a great sugar substitute; it is far better for you. Now of course, you’re going to need a few employees to make honey, and these are the kind of employees you can’t find in the classifieds or on Craigslist. You will need bees. Despite their bad rap, bees are normally easy to deal with if you know how, and they’re very eager and hard workers.
Easy Beekeeping for Beginners
With a few exceptions, almost anyone can raise bees and enjoy the product they create. If, however you are allergic to bee stings, this may not be an option for you unless you have others in the household that can do the routine chores of hive maintenance and harvesting. Even those who do not suffer from allergies to bee stings should wear protective clothing when dealing with bees.
Contrary to what some who fear them believe, the average bee is not aggressive in a neutral setting. However, around their hive they can be aggressive when not handled properly, and even in the best of circumstances, they could sting occasionally. The gear you wear will protect you from the chance encounter with the wrong end of a bee.
All you really need for protection is a good, heavy, long-sleeved shirt; a flannel shirt will do in most cases. You will also need long pants (jeans or similar types are best), boots that cover the ankles and that you can tuck the bottom of your pants legs into, gloves, and the traditional beekeepers hat. Of all the items, the hat is the only thing most people buy instead of make. It is a hood that has mesh covering the face and long sides that tuck inside a shirt or jacket.
You’ll need to buy a few items that are reusable and generally last a long time such as smokers; the other things are commonly found around the home like crowbars, scrappers, and jars. You can buy or make your hives. There are several good diagrams online that give you instructions for creating the hive and the frames that go inside where the bees build the honeycomb and make honey. These frames are held in a box called “supers.” Supers stack on top of each other, and you add them as the summer goes on, giving your bees more room to make honey.
Bees are also available online and can be shipped to you. When you get your bees and place them in the hive, be prepared to feed them. Give them a sugar/water mixture so they have the energy to build and go out and seek the nectar that they can use to create the honey.
You can create your own sugar mixture with equal parts granulated sugar and water. To start off, you will have to feed your colony about ten cups of sugar mixed with ten cups of water per week. After about three weeks they should be producing enough of their own honey, and you will find your sugar water mostly untouched.
Once your hive is established, you won’t have to feed them often. They will feed off of the honey they create, and when you harvest the top supers, the bottom ones are usually enough to hold your colony over the winter.
In the spring, it is always a good idea to check on your hives to be sure there is enough honey left over to give them the strength to go out and start up again. At that time, if there isn’t enough honey in the hive, you may have to add a little sugar mixture to help them along until they’ve started creating honey again.
Beekeeping is a seasonal chore. There isn’t really anything to do in the winter, but in the spring and fall you will have to devote about an hour a day to caring for your hive. At harvest time in the late fall, it can take a weekend to put up all the honey you get from your hive.
Setting Up The Hive
Make sure to place your hive where the bees will have plenty of access to fresh water. The hive should be out of drafts but not hidden out of the sun. Bees love sun, although a little shade during the peak of summer in the afternoon is fine.
For everybody’s sake, place your new beehive away from high-traffic areas or places where children or pets play. Bees like privacy, and they will protect the hive if they think danger is near.
Observe your hives often during the summer and keep them healthy, and by late summer or early fall, you’ll have all the natural, delicious sugar you can handle. People who live in cottage states that allow the sale of fresh produce from homes often make so much honey they can sell it to friends, family, and others online.
Now is the time to really begin researching beekeeping if you have a yen to do it. You’re going to need to learn everything you can about beekeeping and have time to get your supplies together by spring when your first nuc arrives. (A nuc is a mini-hive – it’s pronounced “nuke.”) The first place I went to find out what equipment was out there and what I needed to do to get started in the business was to a couple of the beekeeping supply retailers. There are several of them that specialize in bee supplies, but two of the largest are Dadant  and Mann Lake  (click on their names here to go to their websites).
What I love about both of these retailers’ catalogs is that they are an education all themselves, just reading the things! You can go to each website and download a copy of them. You’ll find you have many, many questions after you’re through, but that’s when you head over to Amazon and pick up a copy of The Beekeeper’s Handbook  by Diana Sammataro. It is the industry standard for beginner beekeepers to study. In fact, Mann Lake hands each new employee a copy of the book and won’t let them answer the phone lines until they’re through with it and understand what it says!
And once you’re through with the book, then you need to go search for your state’s beekeeper’s association. These associations usually put on seminars during the spring for aspiring beekeepers. If nothing else, being involved in your state beekeeper’s association will keep you abreast of all the latest information in the beekeeping world. It also helps to know others that have braved the baptismal fires of beekeeping who can help you as you work to get started.
With a lot of work and a little luck, by the end of the honey flow next year, you will have more honey than you know what to do with!
©2011 Off the Grid News