by Amber

Honey: Grow Your Own

Okay, so technically you can’t get honey from seeds, but you can set up your own private beehive just about anywhere. Its the least you can do really to keep the neighborhood plants and trees thriving, and for a little effort every week or two, you can enjoy honey you helped create when summer is through. Spring is really not that far off, so now’s the perfect time to plan and prepare to become a beekeeper.

This isn’t a project for the balcony, but it’s perfect for urban dwellers with access to a rooftop. You’re probably already growing something up there, or gearing up to, so bees are a plus to your urban garden. A small yard also has plenty of space to tuck a hive in somewhere out of the way of normal activities. Even if you live in suburbia or a rural area, this caring for a hive and being repaid for your trouble in natural honey and beeswax has it’s advantages.

No matter where you shop, honey is expensive! A lot of it imported in the US, where consumption is 3 times greater than output from commercial beekeepers, both small and large. If you find cheap honey, it is likely to be contraband, smuggled in from China. Not good. The Chinese know how to make honey that has absolutely no pollen content. You know what that means? There’s no honey in the jar. And the reason it’s so cheap is because they bypassed legal importing where stiff fees must be paid.

Where To Start?

Before you even worry about getting a hive set up you need to understand bees and learn about them as a creature:

  • Their habits, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Their friends, and enemies
  • What good health looks like to know when things might be wrong
  • How to safely work with them

Now that you know something about bees, besides they will give you honey, and how to run fast enough not to get stung… you need to learn about the right way to set up a hive, and how to maintain it. If you do it wrong, if your timing is off, your honey might be poor quality, perhaps you have none at all. Hmm. Sounds complicated, but isn’t just about anything worth doing? At least you’re not inventing the art of beekeeping! Man has been doing this for 4500 years – without a college degree. All you need is some knowledge about bees, hives, and when to do what so it’s a success.

There are books you can buy with little invested that allow you to learn from the comfort of home, and there are tomes of pages and videos you can access free online. Like Don, The Fat Bee Man from Dixie Bee Supply. He teaches classes that people from around the world attend. Here’s one below with a really interesting idea from his YouTube channel, which is overflowing with tips and tricks.

That’s really cool. You can watch your bees working, but you have to do it at the right point of the summer, or the comb isn’t good at all. Some people saw this video and rushed into a DIY launch too early in the season, and their honeycomb was not the right kind. Drone comb is garbage. Don’s got lots of little pointers, like you have to harvest your honey before you see the first goldenrod bloom. If you don’t you’ll have no brood to overwinter. Summer bees are done. They propagate next year’s brood before cold weather sets in and they die. Not from cold or disease, but because they’ve worked themselves to death over the warm flower-filled days. That’s just one example of why you need to learn what bees as a creature are all about before you dive in.

Worried About Colony Collapse?

This might not be so mysterious after all, and I’m sure a lot of you are suspicious that this is definitely connected to pesticides. Michael Palmer, a veteran apiarist from Vermont, can attest that it is. He has no such problem, in fact, he has more bees than he knows what to do with. Here’s his talk on sustainable beekeeping practices at the National Honey Show:

Grab a couple of books on bees and honey. Of course, you will want to have natural beekeeping habits for the purest honey possible, and the healthiest, most productive hives. Don can give you some pointers on natural honeybee health care. Michael will introduce you to keeping nucleus hives, and more. Still, you need more foundation than some short videos to guide you on this new adventure.¬†You’ll want bee health references and non-chemical treatments, along with the best equipment and practices for small apiaries.

Do it right, and you might have surplus honey that you can sell, perhaps even discover you’re good enough at beekeeping to start a business. You can rent hives or sell honey, just like lots of other people around the world. Incidentally, not renting as in trucking your bees all over the country! There are businesses that set up their hives on renters’ property and maintain them over the season. Then when it’s time to harvest, the renters get a cut of the harvest. Why would you want to do this? It keeps greater swathes in urban areas pollinated and it’s an interesting experience for renting gardeners.

You might want to take a class from an organic farm, if you’re lucky enough to have one not far away. This might make you feel more comfortable at getting started, but you won’t learn everything in a few hours, and are likely to forget important things. You need reference material, and here’s some books to check out. Between the three you should have a great start on growing natural honey at home.

[column size=one_third position=first ]The Beekeeper's Handbook by Diana Sammataro  & Alphonse Avitabile)[/column] [column size=one_third position=middle ]The Beekeeper's Bible by Richard Jones & Sharon Sweeney-Lynch[/column][column size=one_third position=last ]Top Bar Beekeeping by Les Crowder & Heather Harrel[/column]

Of course, if you really want to get serious about producing honey, you might want to invest in Michael Palmer’s book, The Practical Beekeeper. At first glance, it’s $40 price tag for a used copy might sound excessive, until you consider the cost of colony loss. Want to hear more from Palmer before taking the plunge? Watch More of His Videos

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The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.