Recently, people have become increasingly interested in the art of beekeeping. Some do it as a hobby while others take to it because they find raising honey bees an intriguing subject. There are also beekeepers who are dedicated to sustaining the natural balance of our planet by raising honey bees in order to replenish the declining bee population. Whatever their reasons for beekeeping are, beginners and experts alike find that the process of raising honey bees is an absorbing and extremely satisfying practice. If you're a beginner, and if you're wondering about how to raise honey bees, this guide is a good place to start.
Typically, fear and unfamiliarity keep most people from pursuing this hobby. But once you get over these two hurdles, you'll have a fascinating journey ahead as you learn about how to kick-start the process, and how to keep the cycle going. Let's get down to the basics and address a few common doubts or queries that every new kid on the beekeeping block is bound to have.
What is Beekeeping?
Succinctly put, beekeeping is the practice of raising honey bees in a habitat that is conducive to their growth and well-being, caring for the bees, and harvesting honey at regular intervals. Beekeeping is formally known as apiculture, and a person who raises bees is called an apiarist. The term 'apiculture' is derived from the Latin word for bees: apis.
Beekeeping is much more than simply learning about how to raise honey bees, and is an involving process. For centuries honey bees had been wild insects, but in time people learned to domesticate and care for bee colonies. As the first beekeepers explored the process of how to raise honey bees discovered newer techniques about where to place the hive, how to raise honey bees, how to avoid being stung, and how to make this a successful practice, the art of beekeeping was born.
Today, beekeeping is a practice that requires you to know how to set up a hive, how to raise honey bees, and how to manage the different kinds of beehives. As an apiarist, you also need to know of the process of harvesting honey and other by-products obtained from a typical beehive, such as beeswax, propolis, royal jelly, and pollen. It may seem like a lot to learn, ut once you take the first few steps into the world of apiculture, they say that the bees will teach you the rest. Although this may not be true in the literal sense, the fact certainly remains that you can only become a good beekeeper by training yourself on how to raise honey bees and how to understand their behavior.
Now that the concept of beekeeping has been explored, let's discover why it is necessary to learn how to raise honey bees, and what benefits the practice of beekeeping offers to the apiarist, to the honey bees, and to the environment at large.
Why Should You Learn How to Raise Honey Bees?
Ask any enthusiastic beekeeper about what got them started and what keeps them going, and we're almost certain that they'll have tons of reasons why apiculture captivated them. If you're still curious about why you should discover how to raise honey bees and try your hand at beekeeping, here are some reasons why apiculture is beneficial.
Do it for the honey
This is perhaps the number one reason why most people learn how to raise honey bees. The truth is, bees produce tons of excess honey. As a beekeeper, you can harvest all this excess liquid gold and enjoy the taste of natural, unadulterated honey. Not only does pure honey taste infinitely better than the packaged version, but it also comes with scores of health benefits, like improved immunity against diseases, reduced seasonal allergies, swifter wound healing, smooth resolution of digestive issues, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, and quicker recovery from common cold and cough.
Do it for the bees
If keeping bees for their honey seems a tad bit selfish to you, here's a more altruistic reason to venture into apiculture: keeping bees can help redeem their rapidly declining population. In recent times, cases of Colony Collapse Disorder, where worker bees abandon the hive, have increased. The absence of worker bees leaves the queen bee, the nurse bees, and the younger bees to manage the hive. And since they aren't very good at it, the beehives are prone to parasitic attacks that eventually kill them. When humans adopt the hives, they ensure that the bees thrive despite these issues, thus keeping the overall bee population from falling.
Do it for the flowers and the plants
One of the primary roles that bees play in nature is that of the pollinating agent. Bees feed on the plants, vegetables, and flowers in the vicinity of their hives. If you're keeping bees in your home, it naturally follows that they will feed on what you grow in your yard. As bees go from one plant to the next, they transfer pollen. This eventually causes more plants to grow, giving your yard a colorful boost, and a natural perk to your vegetable garden. Another advantage of this increased pollination is that with more greenery around their beehive, the bees feel naturally at home.
Do it for the medicinal benefits
Another compelling reason why you might want to learn how to raise honey bees is for the propolis. This is the sticky stuff that bees use to keep their hive together. The little workers gather it from plants and trees and use it to seal their honeycomb cells. Beekeepers find that fall is the best time to harvest excess propolis from their hives. This sticky brown stuff has a whole load of medicinal benefits. Propolis helps with colds and sore throats, it facilitates the healing of pimples, wounds, and burns, and it has even been linked with fighting cancer and the AIDS virus.
How Do You Raise Honey Bees?
It's easy to be intimidated when you're first considering how to raise honey bees. However, once you overcome your initial trepidation, you'll find that beekeeping isn't as tough as you might think it is. If you're interested in venturing into apiculture, whether as a hobby or as a profession, these tips will help you on your way.
Choose the location wisely
Much like humans, bees need these four essential elements to survive and thrive -- plenty of sunshine, access to fresh water, protection from rough winds, and, of course, some privacy. Keep these factors in mind when you're picking a location for your beehives. Ideally, choose a spot that's far removed from publicly accessible areas like playgrounds and swimming pools. If it's possible, try to position the hive's entrance near a fence so the bees' flight path has limited human interference.
Pick dependable bee sources
If you're a beginner, your best bet is to purchase a package of bees from a local store or from an online seller. Typically, an average pack can contain between 10,000 to 20,000 bees. Queen bees are sold separately, and you'll have to allow ample time for the worker bees to familiarize themselves with the queen. Another ideal option is to get yourself a starter hive. Although starters aren't full hives, the upside is that here, the workers are already familiar with the queen.
Keep your beehive free from pests and disease
A little negligence on the beekeeper's part can cause a lot of harm to the bees. Mites are one of the most common pests that attack and infest a hive, eventually killing all the bees. Other things you'll need to watch out for are hive beetles, wax moths, and ants. Some ideas you can use to keep your hive pest-free include keeping your beehive elevated, making a moat of oil around the hive to prevent insects from getting to it, and sprinkling cinnamon to keep ants away.
Ensure that your bees are well-fed
Sometimes it can take a while for the bee colony to gather enough honey to feed all their members. In the meantime, many beekeepers feed their bees with sugar water (equal parts sugar and water). One of the most important techniques to remember when you're learning how to raise honey bees is to wean the bees off the sugar water slowly, once the nectar becomes adequate.
Our Final Thoughts
If you want to be better prepared for handling a beekeeping project, you could take a beekeeping class where you can learn the essentials, like techniques involved in handling the beehives, setting up, expanding hives, feeding the bees, and getting your protective gear right. When in doubt about how to raise honey bees, the best way to go about resolving it is to contact an expert about your specific problem. With time, you'll gather enough experience to handle any glitches by yourself. So, don't let any minor issues dampen your enthusiasm for beekeeping. Press onward, and remember to enjoy every step of the process.