Beekeeping offers incredible organic benefits that go far beyond enjoying the purity and sweetness of fresh honey. Bees are an essential part of any organic garden, as they do their part to pollinate your fruits and vegetables. In recent years there have been alarming statistics about the plight of the bees, making it essential that each and every one of us do our part to ensure that this beneficial insect doesn’t just survive but that it thrives in vibrant hives that are kept healthy and happy.
Being a beekeeper is much like having responsibility for other types of animals. Bees need a fair amount of basic care from their keeper, including sturdy shelter, water, food sources, and protection from pests and diseases. The happier that you are able to keep your bees, the happier your garden will be, and the better your honey production will be.
If you can afford the time investment, along with the moderate financial investment into your new hobby, then you’ll soon find that it is fairly easy to maintain your hives. There are a few key benefits to beekeeping, including the following.
- The benefit of hundreds of extra pollinators in the area, pollinating your garden.
- The sweetness of fresh honey.
- The beeswax, which has a multitude of uses.
- The sense of peacefulness that can come from being charged with caring for these docile insects.
Like with anything, there are also a few key challenges that every novice beekeeper should be aware of.
- Bees have parasitic mites, which is a normal and natural occurrence. Extreme levels of these parasitic mites can actually have a detrimental effect on your colony.
- Bees can succumb to bacterial diseases.
- Adverse weather conditions can affect the health of your bees.
- Other insects and small animals can see your bees as potential sources of food, which could have your entire colony wiped out overnight.
- You are going to be stung by bees, despite your best efforts. If you have an allergy to bees, then this is not the hobby for you.
With an idea as to the great benefits, and the potential challenges that you could face while embarking on your beekeeping journey, you’ll be ready to get started.
Tools Of The Beekeeping Trade
The initial setup of your beehives can be somewhat costly, but if you invest in quality products then you won’t need to replace them any time soon. While some of your tools and equipment can be purchased pre-owned, it is typically recommended that you do not purchase pre-owned hives, especially if the hives are already home to a colony.
The reasons for this are simple; you could be purchasing someone else’s problems. The bees could be ill, they could have a mite infestation, and they could be defensive due to mishandling. It is okay to purchase used equipment that has been properly cleaned, but you should definitely avoid purchasing equipment and bees from someone who is giving up the hobby. Some of the other tools that you will need include the following.
- Protective clothing is an absolute must as it will protect you from being stung while you are working with your hives
- A minimum of two hives
- Buckets and honey filtration kits
- Hive tools to help you scrap the comb and the honey
- Honey color grader tools
- Bee brushes
In order to ensure that you are getting the right tools for the beekeeping trade, it is typically advisable to get input from a master beekeeper in your area. Not only will they be able to help you select the type of products that you will need to keep your bees safe and healthy, but they can also be a huge source of advice should you have questions about situations you run into with the colony.
Once you have your hives set up, you will need the actual bees. Some companies do sell bees online and courier them, but it has been discovered that this causes an incredible amount of stress for the bees. It is then recommended that you purchase your bees locally, from a local bee association.
There are many breeds of bees to choose from, so it is important to do your research into the types of bees that typically thrive in your particular area. Beekeepers in the United States primarily keep hives that include the Western honeybee, also known as Apis Mellifera. These bees are known to be gentle and easy to work with, easy to keep calm while working with the hive, and are known to produce nice healthy combs.
Knowing Your Bees
Most of us did at least one school project about bees, and learning more about the intricacies of the colony is truly just as easy as referencing a middle school biology project. There are three types of bees living in any typical hive.
- The Queen. It is the duty of the queen to do nothing but lay eggs to help with the expansion and growth of the colony. A queen bee can lay as many as 2,000 eggs in a single day, which is an astonishing number. Queens also secrete unique pheromones that help to keep the worker bees calm and content while they go about their business in the hive. Queen bees can live anywhere from three to seven years.
- The Drone. Drones develop from eggs that have failed to be fertilized. They do not have the ability to sting because they do not have the stinger, which is actually a modified egg-laying organ. The entire role of a drone is to seek out a virgin queen and mate with her, thus ensuring the survival of the hive. Drones have larger eyes than the other bees in the hive, and they typically do not live much longer than ninety days. Since mating is done in flight, drones also need to be able to fly fast enough to keep up with the queen. A drone that has successfully mated with a queen from another hive will not live long after intercourse because of the way its reproductive organs are ripped from its body after intercourse.
- The Worker. As their name would imply, the worker bee does almost all of the work in the hive, save for the important work that the queen and the drones do, which is essentially to do nothing but reproduce. Worker bees are non-fertile bees that have very strict and structured functions from the moment that they emerge as adults. With a short lifespan of only about thirty days from the moment they come out from the cocoon, worker bees will spend their days caring for the hive’s nursery, building the hive, storing honey, going out to find sources of pollen for the hive, and guarding the queen.
Protecting Your Hive
Once your hive is established and you are being treated to the calming sounds of buzzing bees each day, there are still a few things that you will need to do in order to protect the hive from predators. In addition to the dangers other humans pose to your bee colony, your bees are at risk from some of the following.
- Chemical pesticides
- Weather extremes
Naturally, the first thing that you can do is to ensure that you take care to never use any types of pesticides around your bees or around the plants that they will be visiting. As an organic gardener it is unlikely that you will, but also keep in mind that diatomaceous earth can also be harmful to bees.
A fence around your hives can help to keep a lot of the predators out, and still allow the bees the freedom they need to explore. A lot of beekeepers find that building a type of coop using chicken wire will help to keep the bears, birds, and other creatures away from the hives.
During the summer months your hive should be busy making honey and growing their numbers. Ensure that they have access to plenty of sources of food and water. The winter months are the ones that you really have to be concerned about for your bees. It is important to winterize your hives so that your bees can stay as warm as possible during the winter months.
- Cover the hive with an insulating wrap—even plastic sheeting will work just fine.
- Don’t cover up the entrance to the hive, but do reduce the size of the entrance to reduce the cold air that will seep into the hive.
- Make sure that the bees have plenty of honey stored so that they will not starve during the winter.
- Install a feeder cup with an approved bee feeding solution in it if it looks like the bees are not well stocked with honey to last them through the winter.
Routine checks on your hives will give you a good idea as to the overall health of the hives, especially during the winter months.
Unless you have a severe allergy to them, bees are typically docile and harmless. They don’t attack unless they feel an imminent danger to the hive, so it is important to move slowly when working with your bees. Africanized honeybees (sometimes referred to as “killer bees”) have given bees a bad rap in recent years, but the reality is that this highly defensive hybrid bee is also not likely to attack you unless it perceives you as being a threat to the security of the colony. Professional bee handlers can often relocate swarms of these defensive bees.
There is a lot to know about beekeeping, so be sure to do your research. With hundreds of book, websites, and magazines providing you with all of the information you could possible need about taking care of bees, you are sure to find this an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding new aspect of living a truly organic lifestyle.
©2012 Off the Grid News