We just can’t appreciate some things when we’re young. Baths, vegetables, going to school – few children honestly enjoy them. And bees…just the thought of the fuzzy little pollinators’ stingers is enough to drive some children to tears.
Of course, we don’t all grow to enjoy everything we disliked as children. But the more you come to know about honeybees’ lot in life, the more you have to respect them. And if you truly admire these hyper-specialized little creatures (and don’t have serious allergies or a phobia of bees), making an investment in the business of bees can be a rewarding, eco-friendly, and even profitable hobby.
Honey from the Local Bee Colony to the Local Economy
One of the most obvious benefits of beekeeping is the honey harvest. Honey is a healthy alternative to cane sugar, and honey produced locally contains trace amounts of local pollen that can boost your immunity to pollen allergies in the same way a flu shot works. Consuming your own bees’ honey is also a satisfying reward for the work you put in raising them, and has all the benefits associated with the locavore movement.
Annual honey yield varies with weather, types and abundance of surrounding plants, and the overall quality of your beekeeping operation, but one colony can easily produce 75-100 pounds of honey in a year.
Another great reason to keep bees is pollination. Honeybees pollinate almost 100 different fruits and vegetables. So whether you’re interested in sustaining your own garden, a local farm, or just the flowers in the neighborhood, keeping a colony of bees is the most natural, direct way to do it.
Save the Honeybees from Colony Collapse Disorder!
In 2006, honeybee populations began falling precipitously in the U.S. and Europe, spawning the term “colony collapse disorder.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bee colonies in the United States have been declining by an average of over 30% each year since 2006 while falling by only 1.5% each of the previous five years. The exact causes of colony collapse disorder are not fully understood, but it is suspected that pesticides, mites, pathogens, and malnutrition all play a role.
Honeybees are hurting, and need committed caretakers to raise healthy colonies that can produce honey and pollinate the fruits and vegetable we love to eat.
Siting Your Honeybee Colony
Residential beekeeping is outlawed in very few places, but sometimes hive limit restrictions exist. Be sure to find out whether any local ordinances conflict with your plans to start beekeeping. Bees will gather nectar and pollen from flowers well over a mile from their colony. Site your colony in that range and provide a nearby standing water source. That should keep the colony happy, though your neighbors could be a different story. But taking some simple steps can go a long way toward demonstrating that you’re a responsible beekeeper who respects your neighbors’ concerns.
Forcing your bees to take an elevated, steep descent into their hive by positioning a tall fence or shrubs around it will keep them flying above human head level. This also has the benefit of preventing strong winds from disturbing the colony. Orient the hive entrance away from neighbors’ homes if possible.
Swarms are likely to happen at some point, and being prepared for them will demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. When new queen bees are born, they will fight to the death and the survivor becomes the hive’s new queen, while the mother queen and thousands (but not all) of her minions will fly away in search of a new hive. This is the swarm, and you can prepare yourself for it by having a new hive ready for it. Before leaving the hive, the swarm gorges itself on honey, and bees that are full of honey rarely sting.
Being honest and upfront with your immediate neighbors about your plans to start beekeeping is the best way to go. Most people understand the benefits of bees. If they don’t, calmly explaining them and the precautions you’ll be taking should mitigate their concerns. Avoid being sneaky about it and remember that the promise of a jar of fresh, homemade honey to skeptical neighbors often goes a long way.
Learn More About Beekeeping
Beekeeping is a wonderful symbiosis where the beekeeper benefits with a harvest of honey and other hive products (such as wax and pollen) in exchange for providing a safe haven for a bee colony. With the alarming spike in colony collapse disorder, bees need our help more than ever. Those interested in starting a beekeeping operation and discovering the benefits of beekeeping for themselves can do so for $200 – $500. There is no shortage of additional information available online (like the American Beekeepers Federation), in bookstores and in public libraries. Beekeeping books are also available at the Real Goods Store.