Home Beekeeping For Beginners – First Steps
Do you love honey? I mean – do you really, really, really love honey? Do you use honey – as opposed to other sweeteners – most of the time? Then you definitely want to learn home beekeeping for beginners!
I know I use honey a lot – on toast – in various drinks – in recipes – etc. Actually, I try to substitute honey for sugar as much as possible.
Which Is Better – Honey Or Refined Sugar?
Honey is the winner – hands down! Even though it is 64 calories per tablespoon – and refined sugar is only 49 calories per tablespoon – honey is sweeter so, less is needed to sweeten up your food.
In addition, honey is much lower in fructose and glucose and our bodies process and absorb it slower – meaning a longer, more pronounced energy effect. That makes honey much easier on your bodies and digestive systems than refined sugar.
Honey also has other things not found in refined sugar:
- Vitamins and minerals – Vitamins C, B3, B5, and Folate (another B vitamin) – and potassium, manganese, selenium, zinc, and calcium – are prolific in honey.
- Probiotics and digestive enzymes – Bees deposit probiotic bacteria and enzymes into their honey which aid digestion, reduce allergies, treat diarrhea, and improve our hearts and our mental health.
- Antiseptics – Honey also has both antiseptic and antimicrobial properties that can battle a host of bad bacteria – and reduce swelling and discomfort. Have you ever hot honey tea or honey water to ease a sore throat? On the other hand, refined sugar will actually increase inflammation and cause infections to last longer. Think about that!
- Allergy prevention – Studies have shown that ingesting honey grown in your area can make you less sensitive to the local pollen allergies.
Honey bees have been around for 100 million years! And, we know that as far back as 10,000 years ago, humans have poached honey whenever and wherever possible. Plus, I’m sure prehistoric mammals have been stealing honey for a whole lot longer!
We all know that bears are honey fanatics. Just look at Winnie the Pooh for evidence!
But, did you know that honey is also adored by badgers, opossums, raccoons – and even skunks?
With all these bandits, I guess these poor little victims have to really “Bee” aware!
Let’s “Bee” a Beekeeper
If I’ve convinced you to forgo sugar and start using honey more often, you could be considering a foray into beekeeping – to produce your own deliciously sweet and sticky nectar.
But, just how can you get your honey farming project off the ground?
The first step is to understand bees – and realize that you must be thoroughly educated – and learn the ins and outs of the trade.
Whether you want this to just be a hobby or expand it into a commercial venture, it is necessary to learn all you can before making the plunge into devoting the time and buying all the equipment crucial to success.
“Bee” Aware Of The Social Order Of Bees
Out of the 20,000 bee species worldwide, the European honeybee is the most preferred in the United States. Honeybees are the bugs that store more food than they can eat – and they do eat honey to survive the winter months.
Beehives usually hold between 10,000 and 60,000 honeybees. And, there are 3 types of honeybees in every beehive:
Queen – As a rule, only 1 queen is in a hive. She is typically the largest bee – and, the only one that reproduces. The queen never ever leaves the hive – with 2 exceptions. The first time she leaves, as a virgin, is to mate – with as many as 80 drones. The sperm she stores will be used for the rest of her life – 5 to 6 years – to lay her eggs –creating new worker and drone bees – and, eventually, giving birth to a bee princess who will become the new queen of the hive. The second time she leaves the hive is after she gives the hive to the new queen. Then, she leaves with a swarm from the hive – about half the bee colony – to search for a new hive to call home. The bee swarm envelopes the queen to protect her from harm and keep her warm.
Workers – Worker bees are all female – but, they are sterile and don’t reproduce. Workers are in charge of gathering pollen and nectar, feeding the babies, producing / storing honey and wax, cleaning, and defending the hive. Their lifespan is about 4 to 6 weeks.
Drones – Drone bees, being all male, are only on this earth to provide their sperm to virgin queens from other hive colonies. After mating, they die. After the swarm season – even if they haven’t mated – they are kicked out of the hive by the worker bees – before winter sets in – because, they no longer deserve to feast on the supplies of honey and pollen. Then, they will most likely die of starvation or the winter’s freezing temperatures.
A great read for understanding the social life of the honeybee is Honeybee Democracy, by Dr. Thomas Seeley, a biology professor at Stanford University.
As a beekeeper, you must commit to spending countless hours maintaining and inspecting hives to ensure the queen is laying eggs and the workers are building an excess of honey – because only the “honey excess” can be harvested. We have to leave enough honey for the bees to survive the winter.
You will get stung! On occasion, a bee will nestle in a fold of your clothing – you won’t notice it until they sting you. Since they die after stinging, they will only sting you if they see it as their only option. But, it will happen. If you are one of the 10% that are allergic to bee stings – if you carry an EpiPen just in case of getting stung – or, if you have an anxiety attack from getting stung by a bee – “Bee”-ing a beekeeper is NOT for you!
Join the Beekeepers Association in your state – and, also a local bee club close to you. You will get a ton of useful tips and information including the best place to purchase your bees. And, bees should be purchased locally because they are accustomed to the area. Bees in California – are different from bees in New York – are different from bees in Florida. You get the picture. Colonies across the United States are acclimated to the areas in which they are raised and their hardiness is specific to their region.
Watch your bees – There is nothing more gratifying than seeing how your bees interact with each other and their environment. Every bee colony has a unique personality. And, you want to get to know your bees – be their bosom buddy – understand the subtle, but effective, ways they go about their daily routines. So, pull up a lawn chair next to your hives and settle in for an hour or so – a couple days a week – to become one with them.
Read – and read – and read some more. Never stop learning about honeybees – and, stay updated on current honeybee research. All of these books are MUST reading for honey farmer enthusiasts:
By and by, I will be reviewing beehives, as well as beehive accessories and supplies in an upcoming post. Trust me – these will be the best options – at a reasonable price – for beginner, intermediate, and advanced beekeepers.
A Little Lightheartedness
A beekeeper felt that he should go back to college and get more education. On his first day, he was sitting in math class and the professor said, “I know that many of you may be feeling a bit dumb and intimidated in this class. And, if any of you feel especially dumb, please stand up.”
Everyone looked around at each other but, no one stood up right away. After a time, the beekeeper stood up – alone.
The professor exclaimed, “Ah, so, you’re feeling a bit frightened – and a little dumb, huh?”
“Not really”, responded the beekeeper, “I just hated to see you standing there all by yourself!”
That’s All Folks!
Anyone want to be a beekeeper? Have I at least convinced you to eat more honey and less sugar? Comment or email me with your stories and questions.
Jim, the Lifelong Gardener