Homesteading Skills Raising Animals

Honey Bees-thousands of workers buzzing for you

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 “Since the late 1990’s beekeepers around the world have observed the mysterious and sudden disappearance of bee, and report unusually high rates of decline in honeybee colonies. – Greenpeace”

In this article we take a look at the beekeeper; keeping bees, what’s involved, how to start and looking after honey bees.

Honey bees

Honey bees form a huge part of the economy. You might think that the shelves of honey in your local supermarket are all they produce but in fact the whole fruit and veg section; almost everything you eat has been pollinated by honey bees. It only makes sense then that you have some hives on your land; particularly if you have fruit trees. Honey bees are used across the agriculture industry for pollinating crops and it is very common see the beekeeper place hives between fields; their inhabitants hard at work.

With this then you may decide that you would like to keep honey bees for yourself. Honey bees are not really high maintenance. All you need is a bit of education and a little of your time and very soon you will have thousands of little worker bees producing honey for you and wax for your candles (if that’s what you desire).

Learn How to Keep Bees

There are many courses that can be done to help you. A quick search on the Internet will find the one closest to you and it is well worth going to have a look to see what’s involved. See if you can sign up as a visitor. Through your local library or community center there’s bound to be someone who is an avid beekeeper and would be happy to show you what they do and what’s involved in looking after honey bees.

Official courses of course still will be the best, but they can be little pricey. Find out what’s involved before signing up to them. Ideally you’ll want something that is leisurely and intriguing. Your course should take you through the procedure of opening up a hive and give you a lot of honey bee facts.

What you really do need though is to get some hands-on experience; finding the Queen, removing the honey frames from the ‘supers’ the wooden frames which carry the small frames to which the honey bees build their honey comb and see how to extract honey and to process it, as well as how to produce those candles made from beeswax.

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To do this you’ll need some protection obviously and your local beekeeper does this wearing either a full cover suit, or ‘half covers’ (worn with boots and thick gloves). The full beekeeper suit will cover you and protect you from the honey bees and those stings. If you, like most children grew up throwing the odd stone at wasp’s nests you’ll be glad to hear that these suits will protect you completely from the pain you experienced all those years ago. It can be a bit intriguing however opening up your first beehive expecting that any moment now you’re going to be attacked by avid defenders!

The Beekeeper

beekeeperA beekeeper suit is a little claustrophobic and it takes a bit of time to get used to it. It is no consolation that the little bit of thin material is separating you from the attacking stings of these insects. This is only an initial experience though, and after a little while you’ll get used to the buzzing around you and watching the bees rise up and fall. Keeping bees is an idyllic pastime.

Your instructor will no doubt point out to when honey bees are really angry as they tend to attack you in the region of your veil. Keep out the way of the front of the hive as this is the bee’s flight path. It does therefore tend to provoke them. Also do not swat at honey bees which is instinctive to many and is bound to annoy them. They will bring back many of their brothers with them to get their own back.

Smokers are the most common method for subduing honey bees with a bit of smoldering grass, or perhaps some cloth burning away inside the smoker. You’ll want to lift the supers to the honey bees colony on occasion. As the colony gets larger, more supers are added on top.

Honey Bee Facts

bee_smokerYou can tell by how much the hives weigh, how much honey they may have in them. Essentially you are slowly building a condo-type bee hive building in the middle of the field. This gives them more space to grow and store honey. You’ll be amazed how much honey is in these hives. An orchard with some flowers located nearby can support up to 10 hives.

The honey bees travel about a mile away from your hive, and every flower and many trees are just waiting to give up some nectar for your honey bees to collect. A small plot of fruit trees and will support perhaps up to 5 hives in total. Many of your neighbors have fruit trees and flowers, obviously the honey bees are not troubled by boundaries! It is a good idea to be thoughtful about where you place your beehives so that you don’t cause any conflict with your neighbors.collecting_nectar

As wildflowers have declined, the number of hives has declined as well. It is worth working out what is the ideal number of hives for the surrounding land before you have ambitions of too many honey bees working for you. You also want to be careful not to operate too many hives or you may end up starving your honey bees as flowers are stripped of their nectar or for lack of productive foraging area. At most each successful hive can produce 30-40 pounds of honey.

Different fruit trees and plants and flowers and give different flavors and sometimes these honey flavors are blended together. You only have to visit your local supermarket and you discover there is a huge choice of types of honey from all over the World available.

Issues with keeping bees

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Varroa Mite on honey bee

In recent years the honey bees population has suffered a telling general decline in most countries. Honey bees numbers have been declining across the World rapidly. There are a number of reasons for this and as usual some nonsense spread around in the internet. One of the chief culprits is the Varroa mite from the Far East which attacks honey bees. Varroa mites weaken honey bees significantly leaving them open to infection by sucking on their fluids.

Since the 1990s varroa mites have been spreading from their native areas and ‘infect’ our honey bees by causing varroatois. Varroatois has killed off colonies of honey bees worldwide. Even if the colony isn’t wiped out it can cause stunted growth one of the key symptoms of varroatois. Quite often you will be able to find a honey bee with a ‘shrunken wing’. This is a good indication that Varroa mites are present in the hive; the beekeeper has a lot on his hands.

This varroa mite is so common now there are few honey bees living wild. With other predators such as skunks and raccoons in nearly all urban areas; and honey badgers and bears (if you live out of the way). Honey bees are having a tough time of it lately. These predators though rating highly in our imagination are not quite the cute characters of children fiction; certainly not for the beekeeper! Bears; badgers and other critters love honey because it is the highest energy content and its sweet taste and so honey bees are like magnets to these creatures. Strong fencing is always required if you live in bear country.

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Become a Beekeeper

If you think back to your childhood; perhaps you can remember the first time you tasted honey from honeycomb? If not this is an experience that you and your children should enjoy perhaps you should consider keeping bees.

We could all do could all do a bit more to save our bees and our agriculture and there’s something to be said for watching the dripping honey comb and tasting that’s sweet nectar for yourself. Why not sign up for a course or do some further reading and step out as a beekeeper? There aren’t many who can say they have thousands of employees working for them!