Beekeeping is one of those things that utterly fascinates me, but I haven’t added any bees to my homestead… YET. In the meantime, I love learning from homestead beekeepers such as Amy from The Vomiting Chicken. Not only are bees a wonderful addition to a homestead of any size, keeping bees has much greater importance than just providing you with raw honey. Read on for details!
They’re dying by the millions.
Since 2006 honeybees responsible for pollinating more than 100 crops—from apples to zucchini—have been dying by the millions. Though there have been news reports of this crisis, most people still aren’t aware of it. It’s a complex problem, and experts haven’t agreed on the primary reason for it: Colony Collapse Disorder, other diseases, and two kinds of mites are killing entire colonies, but they don’t understand exactly why.
Here’s a scary fact for you: Researchers have found that a combination of common pesticides can interfere with bees’ brains. Bees that cannot learn, will not be able to find food. If bees can’t find food, they will die. Simple as that.
An estimated third of all crops worldwide would disappear, if honeybees disappeared. Think this couldn’t happen? Probably nobody believed that the passenger pigeon would ever be extinct, but the last one on earth was shot exactly a hundred years ago.
The point is, it could happen. But here’s the thing: we can do something about it, though we need to act quickly. There are things we can do to help the honeybees survive. Here’s one: you can get started with your own hive of honeybees.
We keep three hives going, though it has become difficult to keep the bees alive and healthy. We love the honey and I use it every day, in one delicious form or another. We lost all of our bees this winter, so my husband Bryan and our little Mack recently installed new packages of bees into our hives.
I’m glad that scientists are studying this problem, and that folks are educating themselves about what flowers and plants they can grow to support the honeybees. It’s a good thing that there is increased interest in buying local honey, which helps support the local beekeepers. All the attention is good. I’ve always delighted in cheering for the underdog, and I’m cheering for the honeybees.
A hive of honeybees on a homestead is valuable thing these days. Not only do honeybees produce the sweet miracle that is raw honey, they also do a beautiful job of pollinating berry bushes, orchards, flowers, and vegetable gardens, and (this last reason appeals to me more and more) they do it all without much help from us.
Bees are astonishing little creatures, and the more I learn about them, the more I am in awe of them and their imaginative and wondrous Creator!
- Inside one hive are thousands of worker bees, drones and a queen bee, all working together to create the perfect environment for producing honey. When the moisture content of the honey is perfect, the bees seal the cells of liquid honey with wax, and the honey is ready to be harvested! Sweet!
- There is only one Queen Bee in every colony. She lays up to 2000 eggs per day, and she can choose whether the eggs will be fertile (becoming worker bees) or infertile (becoming drones).
- The worker bees literally work themselves to death, but during their lifetimes (about 6 weeks during summer months) they do a series of specific chores: housekeeper, nursemaid, construction worker, undertaker, guard, and finally forager.
It’s not difficult to get started with a hive of bees in your own backyard. And it is the perfect way to take a first-hand approach in saving the bees!
8 Steps to Getting Started with Your Own Hive
1. First, educate yourself. There are many excellent books and websites about how to keep bees. Here’s a website I really like, that goes into detail. Another invaluable way to learn is to get to know your local beekeepers. They are a generous lot, and you’ll learn lots from them.
2. Gather your hive and equipment. It’s not cheap to buy new hives and equipment, but use caution if you pick up used stuff at a yard sale. Clean it up well. Here’s a blog that explains how to do this. It’s important to do this, to lessen the chance that your bees might catch a fatal disease called foul brood.
Equipment you’ll need: a bee veil and/or jacket, leather gloves, a frame lifter, bee brush, pliars, a smoker, and hive tools.
Note:Before opening up the hives, it’s important to have your smoker smoldering. If the bees get upset, the smoke will help keep the bees from acting in an upset manner: i.e. stinging you.
3. Order your bees. Order bees in the winter, and most places that sell bees will sell out. There are only so many bees to go around! Packages of bees can be ordered through local bee shops. If you don’t know where one is in your area, your state university or extension office can advise you.
4. Set up your hive. Once you’ve done your homework, you’ll know the best spot to set up your hive. Choose carefully, because it will stay there for a good long time! It’s not easy (or advisable!) to move a hive, once it’s full of bees.
5. Introduce the bees to their hive. Check to see that your queen is alive and healthy first, because a hive without a queen will fail. Your queen goes in first.
The queen’s 10,000+ friends-and-relations get dumped in next. They check on her first, before getting to work. It’s a pretty cool thing to watch.
6. Put the top back on the hive, and pray for the best. Now you’ll watch, and wait: if the bees are happy and healthy, you may have the pleasure of enjoying a productive hive of honeybees for years to come, providing you with the best quality, freshest raw honey you can imagine, and excellent pollination for your crops and flowers.
7. Feed the bees. Set out a sugar water solution in the first days after setting up a hive, especially if it’s early in the season and there aren’t many flowers yet. When you notice that the bees are no longer feeding on the sugar, discontinue feeding them. The bees are feeding themselves!
8. Check on your bees periodically. Open up your new hive every week or two to check on the bees’ progress. One of the things Bryan looks for is new brood. If the queen is laying eggs, then he knows that she is content in her new home. And if Mama Bee is happy, everybody’s happy!
Pretty cool, eh? So you can see that keeping your own hive of bees is a crazy-worthwhile thing to do: it increases your local bee population, and it is a valuable component to the fruitfulness of your gardens. Plus, you’re doing your little bit to help the honeybees in this current crisis.
It’s just a great thing to do!
Note from Jill: If, for now, you’re just looking for the perfect source for delicious, amazing raw honey (and you don’t have your own bees), this is my favorite source. Their tupelo honey is beyond YUM.
Amy Young Miller keeps a small orchard, a large garden, lots of chickens, a few smart-alec children, some berry brambles, lots of flowers, and three hives of honeybees, on a few windy acres in Nebraska. She writes about her adventures at http://vomitingchicken.com, and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.