Why Keep Honey Bees?

Most people begin keeping bees for the honey. After all, nothing compares to the sweet taste of the glistening liquid, warm and fragrant from the hive. But people stay in beekeeping year after year for other reasons. In fact, honey may drop lower and lower on the list while fascination with honey bees spirals forever upward.

Honey Bees Draw You Into The Natural World

A competent beekeeper must know about bees, but to truly understand them requires knowledge of their environment as well. Beginners who know very little about the natural world soon become interested in the weather, daily temperatures, rainfall, the biology of flowering plants, and the consequence of pesticides. Within months they are talking of nectar flows, dearths, humidity fluctuations, and pollen types. They are introduced to botany, entomology, and agriculture. If nothing else, beekeeping pulls you into the natural environment and makes you aware of things you never considered.

Then too, there are other creatures that inhabit the hive, not ones you want but ones you have to handle. There are predators, parasites, pests, and pathogens, all of which must be managed along with the bees themselves. You will learn about the lifestyles of these living things and how they integrate into the life of your honey bees. It may seem intimidating at first, but their complex association with your colony is as amazing as the bees themselves.

Great Minds Think Alike

Beekeeping is not a craft you can master in a season, ten seasons, or a lifetime. Talk to life-long beekeepers and they will tell you what they just discovered, what they witnessed for the first time, or what new device they just invented. The learning part of beekeeping never ends. Many famous minds have been intrigued by honey bees, spending decades trying to unravel the secrets of the hive. Aristotle, Mendel, Pythagoras, Hippocrites, and Jefferson were all enchanted by these mysterious creatures, and remained so for their entire lives.

It has been said that honey bees are the second most studied creature on the planet, right after human beings. This estimate, based on the sheer number of papers, articles, and books published about the honey bee, is a testament to mankind’s enchantment with this amazing creature. If you become a beekeeper, you will never run out of things to read, learn, discuss, or argue. One thing I can promise is that beekeeping is never boring.

More Than Honey

Even though honey is the most obvious product of the hive, beekeepers soon discover the many amazing materials collected and manufactured by the honey bee. Pollen, propolis, beeswax, royal jelly, and venom are all products that can be collected, used or sold by the beekeeper, or given away as gifts. Honey can be fermented into mead, and your colonies can be used to pollinate crops and gardens, orchards and meadows.

Whether you enjoy home crafts, woodworking, architecture, or code writing, your passion can find a home in beekeeping. Modern beekeepers use skills honed by the pharaohs, the latest Bluetooth technology, and everything in between. You can decide for yourself if you want to employ old ways or modern ones, or some combination unique to you.

Let’s Get Physical

beekeepers plant for their beesMany people find that beekeeping helps them stay active and in good physical health. Some beekeepers make the rounds of their hives daily, climbing hills, walking across fields, or meandering wherever their bees take them. In fact, physical activity is required for many aspects of beekeeping, including inspections, handling of supers, extracting, and winter preparation. If you like to build your own equipment, you can spend even more time hauling, lifting, sawing, and hammering.

And it’s not just the bees that provide exercise. Many beekeepers plant for their bees, anything from entire fields to flower pots. All of it gets you outside and into the heart of nature. Those moments away from the desk and the computer screen become welcome respites from the digital world.

The Zen Of Bees

As strange as it sounds, none of the above comes close to the joy beekeepers get from simply watching their bees. Every beekeeper talks about the peace, tranquility, and calm they experience as they sit by their hives watching nature in action, and admiring the busy-ness and industry of their bees as they prepare for the winter ahead. Others like to watch bees in the garden as they travel from flower to flower loading up on pollen and nectar with a singleness of purpose we treasure.

Regardless of the reason for your first hive, it you stay with it, I can guarantee the admiration you develop for your bees will eclipse all other motivations. A love for bees is the only reason you need to stay with it for a lifetime.

Read more

Where Will You Put Your Hive?

You’ve painted your hive and ordered your bees. You are eager to get started with your new hobby, but you still haven’t decided where to put your hive. Should it go near the house? Next to the fence? Behind the garage?

The best hive placement will be a compromise based on the needs of the bees, the beekeeper, and the public. Of the three entities, the bees are the most flexible. The public, including your immediate neighbors and passersby, are the hardest to please, and you—the beekeeper—fall somewhere in between.

The Bees

First, let’s look at the bees. You can find many rules and suggestions for the best hive placement and most of them make good sense. Most sources will tell you that your hive should:

  • Face southeast or east

  • Have direct morning sun and light afternoon shade

  • Be protected from high winds

  • Should sit on level, firm, dry ground

  • Should have a nearby water source

When followed, most of these suggestions will increase the productivity of your hive. For example, east-facing bees start to work earlier in the day, which increases the number of hours they can forage. Afternoon shade keeps the colony cooler so it needs to do less fanning. But in most cases, breaking a placement rule won’t jeopardize your colony.

Honey bees are extremely adaptable and can handle many situations. Because I live in the forest, my bees have morning shade, an hour of mid-day sun, and then deep afternoon shade. In spite of that, my bees thrive year after year and produce loads of honey.

The Beekeeper

Often new beekeepers don’t consider themselves when deciding on hive placement, but it turns out that we humans are less adaptable than the bees. For examples of bad hive placement, I need only recall things I’ve done in the past.

  • More than once I have put hives against a building. In each case I decided the building would provide some rain and wind protection, but completely forgot how nice it is to approach the hive from the rear. Not only is it difficult to work from the side, but you can’t slide Varroa drawers or pollen trays in and out the back.

  • After carefully digging out a flat spot, I have often put hives on a hill. But if the bees face the uphill slope (putting me on the downhill side) the hive quickly becomes too tall for me to work comfortably. Working a hive that’s over your head is no fun.

  • It’s also nice to be able to drive fairly close to your hives. Carrying an empty hive across a field is nothing, but when it’s full of honey, it can be a backbreaking chore.

  • If you put a hive too near a door, you may not be able to use that door in summer without letting bees into your house.

  • If you put the bees too near a sandbox or swing set, your kids may not use it.

  • If the hive is too near the lawn furniture or picnic table, you may find them covered in droppings.

The Public

If you are close to public places, there are obvious rules to follow:

  • Hives should be kept away from sidewalks, crosswalks, playgrounds, trails, parking lots, schools, businesses, and parks. Not only is a poorly placed hive inconsiderate, but it could lead to the wrong end of a lawsuit.

  • Hives should not be kept in areas where it is prohibited by CCRs or city ordinances.

When it comes to immediate neighbors, beekeepers fall into two groups, those who tell and those who don’t. Each philosophy has its pros and cons, but the method you choose will have a lot to do with your individual property.

If there is no way to hide the hive, you may as well tell them in advance because neighbors are inherently curious and will soon figure it out. If you are thinking about putting your bees next to a property line, check the set-back requirements for your area.

Honey, the prefect gift

The hives may have to be five feet from the line or ten. In a situation like that, ask your neighbor if it’s okay. Even though you may have the right to put your hive six feet from his veggie garden, it’s best not to be rude about it. By conferring beforehand, you are more likely to get lasting cooperation. And be sure to give honey as a thank-you gift.

If you can hide your hives easily, you may want to remain silent. Once bees are away from their hive, they disperse quickly and disappear into the environment. Several beekeepers have told me it wasn’t their bees that got noticed by neighbors, but their bee suit.

So if you paint your hives to match the foliage and wear a dark or camouflage bee suit, you may never get noticed by the neighbors. To me, that is the ideal situation.

Read more
Continue shopping
Your Order

You have no items in your cart