Have you ever wondered why more and more people are looking into beekeeping? As our environment changes, our local wildlife becomes increasingly at risk of becoming endangered-or even worse-extinct. Many larger animals become the focus of wildlife campaigns when their numbers become low, mainly because they are hard to encounter in the first place, and also because of their sheer size. While losing any species is a tragic event that needs to be prevented at all cost, it is the smaller insects that could affect our entire ecosystem if their numbers dwindle too low. The importance of bees, for instance, relates to their crucial role in pollination.
A study from the BBC states that bees pollinate around 70 of 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world, and that honey bees are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops. Even more upsetting, if we lose the plants that bees pollinate, then we lose all the animals that eat those plants, and so on up the food chain. It would be a chain reaction that would be catastrophic.
Fortunately, there is something we can do about it, even on a local level in your own backyard! Due to reports of a declining population in the United States, beekeeping has been gaining interest in communities all across the country. Here are a few tips that might help you if you are interested in lending a hand to our busy little friends.
Well Planned Beekeeping Location
Before you start your beekeeping journey, you need to be sure you have a proper place to start your colony. If you have one, a backyard is an ideal location, especially since beehives do not really need much space. The physical dimensions of a beehive are small, and the primary space-related issue is a suitable flight path for your bees. Some neighbors worry about the presence of bees in their vicinity, especially if anyone in their family is allergic.
One thing you can do to ensure your location is ideal for all parties is to have a fence. A six-foot-high fence or shrubbery can serve several purposes:
The rise of urban beekeeping is proof that beekeeping does not require a huge amount of space to be successful. With a little planning, mainly about how your bees get from and back to the hive entrance, the space requirements are not an issue for most beekeepers.
Education And Community
Another positive aspect of a rising urban beekeeping community is that everyone has more opportunity to share knowledge. The Internet is a fantastic source of information if you live in an isolated area, but much of what you learn as a beekeeper is generic and common across all beekeepers, the more valuable and essential information involves your direct surroundings. This is where a community of experienced beekeepers comes in handy.
For example, a local community can help you understand how a hive typically ebbs-and-flows throughout the year, what the local weather patterns are like, what flowers bloom and for how long, where you can find local supplies, zoning and overall legal restrictions, pest and pesticide issues, and swarm capture services.
There is also no substitute for putting in time and hard work. Being around expert beekeepers that have truly come to understand and appreciate your surrounding environment can provide you with an immense advantage if you are just getting started. As the environment changes, you will realize that beekeeping is a never-ending quest for knowledge, and it is helpful to have a community of people that can help and understand what you are undertaking.
A common misconception about beekeeping is that it does not take much time to maintain a hive. Unlike watering plants or tending to a garden, beekeeping involves an intense amount of care for a living, breathing home. Once your location is scouted out, and your hive is created, plan on checking in with your bees at least once a week.
You can expect these weekly check-ups to last about one hour per hive. We will dive into the equipment and clothing aspects later, but during weekly hive inspections, beekeepers check for healthy egg production, pest contamination, and small burrowing animals. Beetles, moths, mites, and fungus are the most dangerous predators since they sneak into a hive when beekeepers are not looking. Laying eggs or feeding off larvae, these various bee-killers can wipe out a colony, and ways to battle them are varied and plentiful. This is where a community of local beekeepers really comes in handy.
A hive is the focal point for everything your bees need. With frequent visits, maintenance, and upkeep, you will soon feel like the hive is your home as much as it is theirs. There are many types of beehives used by beekeepers today, but the vast majority of them use one (or a mix) of three types of hives:
This hive can be identified by vertically hung frames, a bottom board entrance for the bees, boxes containing frames for brood and honey, the lowest box of the hive for the queen to lay eggs, and boxes above where honey may be stored. There is also an inner cover and top cap to provide weather protection.
This hive is typically characterized by a vertical top bar that is simple to build and easy to use. The cost is about one-third to one-fourth the cost of one standard ten frame Langstroth hive, and it is friendly to the bees since they can draw out their own comb.
The Top Bar:
A top-bar hive is a single-story frameless beehive in which the comb hangs from removable bars. The bars form a continuous roof over the comb, whereas the frames in most current hives allow space for bees to move up or down between boxes.
Take your time and do your research on each hive type to make sure your beehive fits your yard and is most comfortable for you and your bees.
Another crucial piece of equipment needed for beekeeping is a smoker. Bees need to be tamed before moving homes, hive inspections, and frame removal for honey extraction. To do so, most beekeepers use a small smoker: a small can with bellows attached where newspaper, dried leaves, and twigs ignite and get puffed into the hive. Smokers serve two purposes:
- 1Firstly, the smoke masks the pheromones that bees use to communicate with one another, specifically the “Alarm Pheromone” (think back to all the bee stings you may have had). A honey bee will emit an alarm pheromone when it is startled or injured. Any bees in the area that smell that pheromone will become more aggressive and will emit their own alarm pheromone. Within a few minutes, they can organize the whole colony against you. Having smoke handy to mask the scent ensures that even if you kill a bee or two, you will not have an army of bees coming after you.
- 2Secondly, the smoker simulates a forest fire, activating a kind of bee “fire drill”. The honeybee fire safety protocol is to go into the hive and eat up lots of honey. This distracts the bees, and the large meal makes them much less motivated to inspect their surroundings.
Bee stings are, by far, the worst part of the job. While it might be difficult to avoid a bee sting outside of beekeeping, giving the right equipment, it can be very easy to avoid an accidental sting when you are tending to your colony. There are many suits for beekeepers out there, so here are a few things you can look for to help you on your search.
Hopefully, this short list helps you on your journey into beekeeping. While this guide might seem comprehensive, it is very important to check with your local community so you can see this advice in practice and get a full understanding of what it means to run a fully functioning colony. Good luck on your journey!