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The practice of raising honeybees did not begin the other day. Caring for and managing bees is a practice that’s been going about for centuries. Honeybees are raised for not only the honey they make but also for other important services such as pollination services. Beekeeping has fascinated many since there is so much to learn about it. In this article, we’ll discuss several beekeeping facts that you may or may not have known. Let’s get started.
Here are some beekeeping facts worth acquainting oneself about:
1. The First Year in Beekeeping is the Most Challenging
Your first year in the business of raising bees will certainly be the most challenging. First off, you are new and might have to learn a lot of first-hand knowledge on the job. Your bees have no idea (nor do they care) of your skill level and will operate instinctively as they do in the wild. You should also expect no reward for your year of work at this time, at least for the moment.
Honeybees will make surplus honey depending on the nectar flow, colony strength, and health. You might however be lucky if the colony makes surplus honey during your first year as a beekeeper. One of the ways to find out if the colony has accumulated surplus honey is by looking for capped or sealed honey on the frames. It is recommended that you harvest honey when about 80 percent of the honey cells are sealed.
Alternatively, the beekeeper can wait until all frames are filled and sealed or wait until the end of heavy nectar flow. Timing is important since bees might begin to consume much of the honey if left for too long. It is also not wise to harvest honey during the cold season since it tends to thicken or granulate. You might also deplete colony reserves at this time as the bees are preparing for the cold winter months.
2. Raising Honeybees is a Whole Year Cycle of Work
There is no time for rest when it comes to raising honeybees, even in the case where you have outsourced some of your work or have someone helping out. Bees require continuous attention no matter the seasonal changes.
The start of the year for the beekeeper is early fall and he/she has to make sure that the honeybee colony is well stocked with honey reserves. There also has to be a healthy and productive queen and a number of frames filled with pollen. Winter months require proper insulation of hives and sufficient food reserves. The beekeeper might even be forced to supplement the feed. However, good preparation during fall eliminates the need for much attention throughout winter. During the onset of spring, most colonies starve due to a lack of food and hence the need to inspect hives and provide food such as sugar water or honey where necessary.
The beekeeper also has to increase the supers and comb boxes as spring progresses and colonies grow. Other important tasks such as honey harvesting are part of your work as a beekeeper. Surplus honey can be harvested and about 50 pounds left behind for the colony. You also have to extract honeycombs and ensure proper storage of honey. Pests and disease management are also crucial when raising successful colonies. With all that you do not have much time for rest.
3. Location is Most Important when Raising Bees
You will come and learn that bees might have the freedom to establish their colonies almost anywhere imaginable but that can never be the case when domesticating them. State laws not only dictate how and where to raise bees but common sense has a place since bees are not welcome to everyone. Therefore, the location for your apiary has to be chosen well.
Neighbors and local zoning regulations have to be considered. In fact, in some areas, the authorities require a minimum of ¼ of an acre for beekeeping and anything below this cannot be allowed. Such laws are important since it guarantees the safety of the beekeeper and those living within close proximity to your bees. It is thus important to keep a bee hive away from individuals with an allergy to bee stings and areas where pets and children play. Beehives are also much safer when placed about 15 to 20 yards away from residential areas or where humans congregate.
It is also important to place the beehive less than ¼ of a mile from a clean water source. This should provide clean and reliable water all year round without drying up. It is also safe to place hives next to tall fences or hedges to keep them flying over them to avoid human interaction in the process.
4. You Only Need a Few Tools when Starting out in Beekeeping
Only a dozen items will suffice if you are starting out as a beekeeper. A bigger number of beekeeping equipment are needed much later on when colonies have multiplied and some can be borrowed or rented from local beekeepers.
Starter tools and equipment are fairly inexpensive and will range in price from as little as $20 to $40 for a bee smoker, a bee brush will cost about $5, a hat and veil around $20 – $30, and gloves around $15 – $20. You will also need to invest in a good beekeeping suit, whose price range is $50 to $250. The hive tool is also required early on and will help separate hive parts that are stuck together when you are inspecting the hive or harvesting honey.
Each tool has its unique and necessary purpose. For instance, the smoker is required for pumping smoke into the hive to calm the bees during inspection or honey harvesting. The hat and veil protect your face and neck from bee stings. A beekeeping suit on the other hand protects your body and the gloves protect the hands from stinge. The bee brush helps to gently push aside bees from the combs. Finally, you need to get a good quality standard beehive and a package of bees. All these combined will cost less than $500.
5. Honeybees can Harm the Beekeeper
Honeybees will sting the beekeeper from time to time if they are not properly dressed when inspecting hives or harvesting honey. The bees instinctively treat any kind of intrusion as an invasion and will respond aggressively to it.
Worker bees are known for releasing a pheromone that sends a signal to the other worker bees after it stings. This will attract more bees to the area and cause more harm. The bee stinger injects venom that has proteins into the human skin, inflicting pain and causing swelling. The stinger will also affect the immune system and tend to be fatal, especially for individuals that are allergic to bee venom. On average, a total of 1,100 stings from the honeybee will result in the death of the victim. This applies even to those not allergic to the stings. Unfortunately, anyone with an allergy to bee stings can die even after a few stings.
The bee venom, a colorless and acidic liquid is extracted and used for many purposes. It is a potent remedy for inflammation, arthritis, skin disease, immunity problems, and pain. It has been in use in traditional medicine for centuries of years and it is only recently that modern scientists explored its potency and benefits.
6. Beekeeping is Crippled by Many Threats
Beekeeping is perhaps the only business that is crippled by a wide variety of threats, inclusive of human and animal-induced threats. Honeybees are a major target of so many predators, ranging from bears, birds, insects, raccoons, ant-eating mammals, and humans themselves.
Bee numbers have declined over the years and according to recent data stand at about 2 trillion globally. This number keeps declining by the day, raising the need for everyone to support beekeepers. Climate change, pesticides, and parasites are serious threats to the survival of honeybees. These have collectively led to the decline in bee numbers over the last couple of years. The increased awareness and efforts of conserving honeybees make it possible to reverse this negative impact.
Without bees, the global ecosystem would be adversely affected. Honeybees pollinate fruits, flowers, and vegetables. This is essential for the production of seeds and fruits that make it possible for these plants to propagate. Honey and other products are also benefits that accrue from raising honeybees. It is therefore important that everyone play their role when it comes to conserving honeybees. Bees are the cornerstone of the overall ecosystem, without which the overall balance of the ecosystem would be greatly impacted.
7. Beekeeping Increases Crop Yields Tenfold
Honeybee pollination services increase crop yields up to tenfold. They help pollinate 35 percent of the global food crops. Bees improve crop yields and quality and are believed to be responsible for the existence of 1 of every 3 bites of food humans take. Certain crops such as blueberries, avocados, and cucumbers record an increase in yields of up to 350% when pollinated by honeybees. Bees also pollinate other crops such as strawberries, apples, bananas, vanilla, melon, coffee, peaches, chocolate, and almonds.
California almonds are a classic example of the importance of honeybee colonies, with growers engaging 2 honeybee colonies for every acre of almonds. In total, about 48 billion bees pollinate almonds in California.
Globally, the honeybee serves as a key pollinator, helping improve crop yields in horticultural and agricultural crops. They are efficient pollinators since they rely on nectar and pollen for their survival. Honeybees are also non-selective when visiting flowers making it possible to pollinate most plants and crops. The honeybee tends to also focus on one kind of flower at a time. This increases the chance of pollination since pollen from the same species is more likely to be carried to a similar flower.
8. Varroa Mites are the Oldest and Biggest Threat to Beekeeping
Beekeepers face a myriad of challenges some of which are beyond their control. However, among all the pests and diseases known, Varroa mites stand out. The mites are regarded as the oldest and the biggest problem for beekeepers globally. The mites were introduced to the US in the 1980s and are believed to have originated in Asia. They target the honeybees and will gorge on their fat body, sucking them dry. They are major vectors or transmitters of honeybee diseases, posing a major risk to bees. The parasitic mites not only target adult honey bees but also larvae and pupae.
The ultimate effect of a Varroa mite infestation is inescapable colony collapse. They weaken honeybees and transmit diseases making it impossible for the beekeeper to save the bees. The symptoms of the Varroa mite infestation are vague during early stages and will be more apparent as the mite population compound. By this time, the damage will have been severe and beyond control. Common signs of a Varroa mite attack include impaired flight performance, scattered brood, hive absconding after foraging, crippled and crawling bees, shortened lifespan, and emaciated worker bees. Affected colonies also exhibit clear signs such as abnormal brood patterns, slumped larvae, a decline in the bee population, and chewed capping.
9. The Economic Value of Commercial Beekeeping is Huge
One in every twelve jobs is directly connected to agriculture, in the US. The industry is huge and relies heavily on commercial beekeepers. Reliable stats point out that commercial beekeeping contributes $15 to $20 billion annually to the economic value of the agricultural industry in the US. Pollination services make it possible for the agriculture sector to be competitive by boosting the quality and yield of produce. Ultimately, food prices stabilize as the food supply increases.
Major crop plantations such as almonds and broccoli rely on pollination services, with 9.5 percent of the global economic value of agriculture being directly linked to insect pollination. For every 100 crops that provide 90 percent of the global food, 70 of these are pollinated by honeybees. Interestingly, 95 kinds of fruit trees in North America are solely pollinated by honeybees. Additionally, California is a leader in the production of almonds, accounting for half of the global production of almonds. Almond fields in California rent 1.3 to 1.5 billion honeybee colonies for pollination services.
10. An Understanding of the Honeybee is Essential in Beekeeping
Your first and most important duty as a beekeeper is the need to fully comprehend the honeybee. This being one of the most studied insects guarantees you get dozens of articles on bees. An understanding of the honeybee’s biology, evolution, and behavior makes it possible for the beekeeper to better understand the bees. This will form a basis for how best to handle honeybee colonies.
It is also much easier to address future issues that come along when you have a clear understanding of what you are dealing with. Furthermore, you can coexist peacefully with bees when you have a better understanding of their behavior and characteristics. In fact, the stinging behavior exhibited by bees occurs only when they sense an attack or intrusion. Therefore, you can manage the bees well when you understand how they operate.
11. Expect Successful Colonies to Swarm
Swarming is never a welcome sight to most beekeepers even though it is a natural and much-needed phenomenon in honey bee colonies. It is the only way that honeybee colonies can build more successful future colonies. The swarm is an indication that the existing colony has multiplied and available space can no longer accommodate the huge number of bees. The colony will then split into two and the queen moves away with half of the bees.
Once you comprehend how swarming occurs it becomes easier to manage it. For instance, you can use nuc colonies or make splits whenever you suspect the possibility of swarming. Spring is an ideal time when most colonies split and swarm, though there might be some exceptions. It is however important to be on the lookout for any signs of swarming. Swarming may seem bad but it really isn’t since it helps disrupt the brood cycle. This then means the survival rate of the dangerous Varroa mite is destabilized.
12. Hive Inspections are Important
Just as a machine requires regular maintenance, honeybee colonies do require continuous and regular inspection. Parasites, diseases, and pests can be managed well through early detection which is only possible through regular checks on your bees. It is wise to inspect your hives every seven to 10 days during fall and spring. This will entail a comprehensive check on the hive and brood. Check the space utilization, brood frames, brood patterns, and the queen.
Physical examination of the eggs, queen cells, larva, and capped brood can help point out potential diseases and stress. Regular hive inspection will also help the beekeeper monitor honeybee behavior. An observation of the bees as they move in and out of the beehive can help give important clues about the colony. The way the bees also respond to the presence of the beekeeper can also give clues about the colony. Finally, the need to make notes during hive inspection cannot be overemphasized. The notes not only act as reference material for later use but also help you to remember what has been noted. You can digitally make notes during your hive inspection using the BeeKeepPal apiary management software.
13. The Beekeeper is not Well Appreciated
Beekeeping is an exciting and rewarding business. Beekeepers do not focus on honeybee products only as one might be tempted to imagine. There is more to the business of raising honeybees. The beekeepers have to ensure the bees have a comfortable home and are well cared for with the least disturbance. He or she has to understand the natural instincts of honeybees and the operation of a colony. The beekeeper will help the honeybee colony all year round, tirelessly ensuring the colony is healthy and strong. It is these strong and healthy colonies that produce surplus honey that can be harvested for human consumption.
In addition to honey are other important honeybee products such as pollen, beeswax, royal jelly, and propolis. All beekeepers whether beginner or commercial beekeepers, play a role that is rarely appreciated. They are particularly much needed during this era when wild bee numbers have substantially declined due to pollution and habitat destruction. There has also been an increased demand for pollination services in plantation agriculture given the efficiency of bees in pollinating crops. Yields and crop quality have also improved as a result of pollination services. However, there is a need to handle bees more humanely and keep them safe from harmful chemicals by avoiding the use of pesticides that harm bees in areas where they are exposed.
14. Success is Relative in Beekeeping
Success is a relative term and that means what a beekeeper perceives as success might not apply to somebody else. Therefore, as such, we cannot define success in beekeeping in one sentence. Beekeeping has many facets attached to it; introducing your first batch of bees to your farm, getting through the first season, conducting a successful hive inspection or honey harvesting, managing to introduce a new queen to an existing colony, and so many others.
As a beekeeper, you can regard yourself as successful if you can raise bees year after year and season after season without a need to buy new bees each year. A colony is successful when it has become self-sufficient. You can also be able to enjoy the fruits of your hard work when the output from your business now exceeds your input. What that means is that you have reached a point where you no longer have to sacrifice other important activities for the sake of your bees but rather are able to pay the required attention to the bees and still have time for these activities.
Finally, you are successful when you can help other beekeepers asides from focusing on raising your bees. Helping others and expecting nothing in return can be so much fulfilling in so many ways.
In conclusion, beekeeping is a fascinating and rewarding hobby that offers numerous benefits for both the environment and the beekeeper. The 14 beekeeping facts highlighted in this article have provided an introduction to the basics of beekeeping and the importance of bees in our ecosystem. From the crucial role that bees play in pollinating our food to the various products that can be harvested from a beehive, beekeeping offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature and contribute to the health of our planet. While there is much more to learn about beekeeping, these facts should serve as a helpful starting point for anyone interested in exploring this fascinating hobby. Whether you are looking to start your own beekeeping journey or simply want to appreciate the vital role that bees play in our world, these 14 facts are essential knowledge for anyone interested in beekeeping.