Moving Toward Self Sufficiency: Bee Keeping
Having bees in the backyard to some may not sound appealing at first. Bees are however, an important part of life on earth and without them pollination of plants would cease in your backyard and in the wild. Bees produce honey, which to them is a food source and is a food source for humans as well.
Honey by most accounts is the perfect food for storage and its shelf life out of refrigeration can be counted in centuries instead of months or years. Honey provides calories, it boosts the immune system, and it is used as a topical antibiotic, furthermore raw honey can help you in your fight with allergies. The honey is produced from pollen and local honey of course is produced from pollen from local plants that you may be allergic too. By consuming the honey, you are allowing your body to build a natural immunity (antihistamines) to the pollen over time.
The process of making honey also produces beeswax, which can be made into candles, soothing ointment for lips, cuts and abrasions. Beeswax is often times used in soap making as a hardener. Beeswax can be used to waterproof leather and for wood preservation and maintenance as well.
Honey can be bartered with/sold during a crisis and it is recommended that you do not advertise the fact that you have beehives, to other than close neighbors and family members.
Bees can be kept, even if you have limited space, but the hives should be shielded so small children and animals cannot tip over or otherwise disrupt the hives. This is for the safety of the children, animals and for the bees.
Having a beehive in your backyard also ensures pollination of your garden crops and fruit trees in the area. Most commercial orchards have numerous hives in the orchard to ensure pollination.
Most experts recommend that you place high obstacles such as a wooden fence (some recommend at least eight feet) around the hive so the bees are forced to fly back and forth well over the heads of anyone in the area. Your neighbors may have mixed reviews about you keeping bees so it is recommended that you have a talk with them.
It is important that pesticide use is limited if not eliminated altogether around bees or on the plants in the area. Your neighbors may dust their crops with pesticides that can wipe out a hive if the bees collect the dust as they gather pollen and bring it back to the hive.
The typical hive can have up to 75,000 bees, at any one time, with roughly half always at work gathering pollen, hive maintenance and honey production. A hive of this size can produce up to 100 pounds of honey a year but realistically expect to gather 75 pounds. Remember bees use the honey for food so make sure you leave ample supply for the bees when gathering honey in the fall. The bees will hibernate and feed off the honey all winter.
Constructing the Hives
The Ten-Frame Langstroth Hive is considered the most common type of beehive. In this type of hive, the bees build a brood nest at the bottom and fill the top frames with honey.
Hives can be purchased pre-built and all ready to go or you can build your own. Essentially a hive is nothing more that sheets of material that lay side by side similar to folders in a wooden filing cabinet. This makes it easy to remove the individual sheets (wood framed) and to remove the honey.
Keep the hives off the ground (between 18-24 inches) to protect the structure from ground dampness and water runoff, to provide ventilation and to keep small animals from invading the hives. Bees naturally build hives in an area between two and three cubic feet of space.
You need protective gear especially around the face and head. Hands must be protected as well as other parts of the body. Most beekeepers use smokers to help control the bees. Smoke to bees signals a forest fire and they naturally go to the hive or leave the area. Worker bees will go to the hive to gather honey for the mass exodus. Smoke also interferes with their communication system and this helps prevent them from gathering into a swarm.
Types of Bees
Bees are usually purchased in swarms and most recommend you start with two swarms, in the event something happens to one or the other. The colony will increase in size over time.
Everyone that has raised bees for any length of time will usually have their own opinions on the best bees for the new beekeeper. Italian honeybees are recommended for those just starting out because they are considered gentle and easy to manage.
Get with your local extension office on local regulations and for information on the best type of bees for your area.