Beekeeping isn’t like any other creature one can keep in the backyard or urban garden. Chickens hang around because they know you’ll feed them. Bees, while having homebody tendencies, only need you to locate them where there’s plenty of pollen and nectar to sustain the colony. It’s more of a co-existence thing. They pollinate shade and fruit trees, shrubs and flowers, and all your veggie crops. Not only will you have more abundance and beauty, you have honey in exchange for maintaining the hive. At least, if you do your job as an apiarist right.
So, you need a lot more knowledge beyond how to harvest honey without getting stung. You see, modern beekeeping means maintaining good colony health and safety. As the beekeeper, you need to learn all about keeping your bees away from pesticides, predators, pests, and diseases
1. Bees Have Predators
Amazingly, something eats honey bees… stinger, fuzzies, and all. Without trying one, I’d assume they’re probably sweet tasting. Apparently, skunks think so! Placing your hive lower than 2-feet off the ground allows a skunk to snack freely. They can wipe out an entire colony in a year. Obviously, not a beekeeping issue in a rooftop garden or farm, but definitely almost anywhere on the ground.
2. Separating Beekeeping & Living Space
Interested in taking up beekeeping, but worried about the pollinators chasing your children and guests out of the backyard? Guess what! Enclosing your hive(s) with a tall barrier – hedge, privacy fence, or walls – allows you to control the bees’ flight pattern. They will always leave and return to the hive high in the air.
3. Why You Need A Smoker
It’s not so much about blinding them as it is about removing their ability to communicate. The last thing you need is full-scale alarm broadcasting. Not that your colony will take your beekeeping hive intrusion lightly, but the announcement to attack the interloper won’t spread throughout. Bees communicate by odor release, and the smoke masks their native language.
4. Only Harvest Honey When Ripe
Like fine wine and good cheese, aged honey is better. Here’s why…
When a bee collects nectar, it’s an 80-20 water to sugar mixture. Both the foraging bee and hive worker who handles the incoming nectar add some invertase, an enzyme before each drop is hung in a cell opening to process. It’s not ripe until the water content has evaporated to about 18%. So, now you know why old honey crystallizes in the jar. It loses most, if not all, of the water that keeps the flowery sugar in liquid form.
5. Beekeeping & Gardening Are Similar
An experienced gardener knows there are times and ways to plant, to weed, to water, to feed and to harvest for peak food quality. Beekeeping has a similar calendar the apiarist needs to follow in managing colony activities. Not just under normal conditions, but also during extreme weather spells and excessive or non-existent pollen and nectar influx. Knowing what to do at the drop of a hat is best. So, a sound beekeeping education and a well-planned hive monitoring calendar makes a whole lot of sense.
6. Prevention Is Better Than Cure
Unsanitary tools can spread pests and disease. Sound familiar? Just like with gardening tools and household utensils, always clean your beekeeping tools after use. Thoroughly clean each and every piece after inspecting your hive(s). And it’s wise to have a designated pail in your apiarist toolbox used only for this task.
7. Keeping Your Bees Healthy
In today’s world, there can’t possibly be many who remain clueless to bee colonies falling prey to pests and disease. Good news! You can actually keep your hives safe from mites and disease without chemicals. Of course, it calls for knowing your bees, ensuring they have good nutrition, and sound hive management practices. But like any other pursuit, be it work or a past time, you will only get out of beekeeping what you put into it. Having bees is not the same as keeping them.
8. Take Up Beekeeping Properly
These lovely gems of beekeeping wisdom come from The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum. I have a copy shared by the fine people at Quarry Press. The full color book is well-written, fully illustrated, and easy to understand, yet provides you with all you need to know to get started on the right foot. It’s one of the Top 5 books on beekeeping for beginners and now in its 4th Edition.
Kim Flottum is a big name in the apiary world. He has about 30 years of experience as a beekeeper from farming and crop pollination. He’s the editor of Bee Culture Magazine, and has authored numerous other books on honey and honey bees over the years.
Learn more from your own copy of Kim’s latest updated The Backyard Beekeeper. Fresh off the press in January 2018, it’s available from Amazon for about the same price as 2 big jars of organic honey. And grab a subscription to Bee Culture to stay on top of current apiary news.
If you don't find her at the desk - check the gardens. When not writing and weeding, she enjoys a good book, painting junk furniture, and blending the harvest of heirloom tomatoes and chiles into salsas.
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