I recently mentioned to someone that I was researching beekeeping and excited to start a hive on this Pacific Northwest island I recently moved to. I told her, “When I lived in the city, I didn’t even think about it, but now that I’m here in the country with all this space…” My friend interrupted me. “Oh, its hard to do bees here. They die. People spray a lot around here, you know.”
That got me thinking. There may be factors both within and beyond your control that are well worth considering before making the commitment (and investment) in starting your first hive. At the very least, it’s best to be well prepared and know what you are getting yourself into. Most advice suggests finding a mentor, or an experienced beekeeper to guide you your first year. If you don’t yet have that and, like me, are relying on books and the lovely internet to guide you, take a look at these questions to see if you are in a good position to get started.
Ready to start a beehive? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you buy your first hive.
Growing bee-friendly plants is one of the most helpful things each of us can do to help the the critical state of bees today. It’s spring and many of us are getting back out to the garden. Perhaps that display of seed packets has caught your eye at the grocery store. Whether you have acres or just a few pots on the porch, planting with bees in mind is a great idea. This is also a terrific way to involve kids of any age in gardening and in learning about bees and pollination. You could give each kid a small bee-patch to make their own bee gardens. What plants attract honey bees will vary by region. Check out this incredible resource for a specific pollinator-friendly planting guide for your region. You can enter your zip code and get a wonderful guide, tailored to your area.
Most of us are aware that the last 25 years have seen alarming decreases in the numbers of bees. Bees are responsible for pollinating around 70% of our fruits and vegetables. The main reasons for their decline are pesticide and insecticide use (especially neonicotinoids), parasites like the varroa mite, a reduction in flower-rich habitat and monoculture farming practices. This dire situation has inspired many to learn beekeeping and start keeping their own bees. However, this requires a financial investment up front and for a variety of reasons, not everyone wants to keep bees. Not to fear, there are lots of smaller things you can do to help save honey bees. It can be as small as putting some flowers in your window box, buying local honey or donating to an organization that’s helping bees.
There is a lot of talk about the health benefits of honey. It seems that honey can do everything from prevent cancer to clear up your skin, depending what you read. But all honey is not created equal. The benefits depend on what kind of honey you are eating. And how you are eating it as well. We talked about the powerful benefits of true manuka honey in an earlier post. But what about the honey we use every day?
Raw Honey vs. Processed Honey: What’s the Difference?
Most of the honey in grocery stores has been filtered, processed and/or pasteurized. This means that all of the pollen and other good stuff has been removed and the honey has been heated. The pastuerization process heats honey to about 160° F. The process of heating honey destroys the enzymes, antibacterial qualities and much of the naturally occuring nutrients found in raw honey.
If you don’t quite know what manuka honey is, don’t worry. I didn’t either, until recently. I heard from a reader that she and other horse owners use manuka honey with their horses for treating lacerations. They apply it directly to the wound. This intrigued me so I dug a little deaper. Turns out there are lots of answers to the question: What is manuka honey used for? But first things first…
What Makes Manuka Honey Special?
The manuka tree or bush is native to New Zealand and only grows in parts of New Zealand and Australia. While regular raw, unfiltered honey has tons of nutritional benefits, manuka honey takes this to a whole new level. It is much more nutrient rich with much higher levels of the enzymes that convert to hydrogen peroxide and result in powerful anti-microbial properties. Continue reading What is Manuka Honey Used For?→
I got this simple bamboo mason bee house for my daughter last year. I chose this one because it had a nice modern look, and was made from bamboo. It was also one of the least expensive I saw. I thought it would be a great way to learn about bees and attract them to our yard. I have learned a lot since buying this house a year ago. See this post about getting my first bees and how I had to rig this house to make it safe and functional by basically taking it completely apart. I recommend looking at the mason bee houses and supplies at Crown Bees, where I got my mason bees, if you are looking for a bee house.
Mason bees are non-agressive, native bees that lay their eggs in narrow passages, like those in the bee house. Unlike honey bees, they are solitary bees. The females make their own nests and there are no worker bees. They lay their eggs in hollowed tubular shapes, such as hollow reeds or holes in wood. When a nest is filled with eggs, they plug the end and move on to find the next nest great post to read.
These mason bee houses and others like them provide lots of tube shaped spaces for bees to create nests and lay their eggs. If it looks plugged up with mud or something pasty you’ll know it is filled with eggs. So far in ours, none of the tubes are filled. I’m not sure if we just don’t have mason bees around here or if they have plenty of other spaces nearby in which to lay their eggs. Continue reading Product Review: Bamboo Mason Bee House→
Most candles are made from either paraffin, soy or beeswax. The colorful shelves of aromatic candles we see at the grocery store are usually paraffin. They’ve gone through a lot of chemical processing to get into their attractive disguise. Soy candles with either some soy (mixed with paraffin) or 100% soy can also be found. These are a step up from paraffin, but still often have synthetic scents. And then there are beeswax candles, which you may not find at the grocery store, but it is defintiely worth looking for them elsewhere. Continue reading 8 Reasons to Use 100% Pure Beeswax Candles→
When you are first starting out and learning about beekeeping, it can be a bit overwhelming. There is an unlimited amount of information you could, learn from bee behavior, safety, treatment of diseases, honey, equipment needed and much much more. But one of the obvious very first steps is getting a hive.
What are some great beehives for beginners?
I’m discovering some wonderful small businesses dedicated to bee health, chemical-free beekeeping and quality craftsmanship. If you’re just starting out, it makes a lot of sense to get your information and equipment from long time beekeepers and craftspeople who really know what they’re doing. This post will highlight Back Yard Hive, founded by Corwin Bell.
Your decision might be made for you if you already have equipment or are working with more experienced beekeepers with hives already set up. But if you are like me and many others, you are starting from scratch. I’m in the process of learning about top bar beehives and found a lot of great information on Back Yard Hive‘s webiste. This video below from them does an amazing job of showing the inner workings of these hives and exactly how they work.
Are you not quite sure how to tell honey bees from some of their look-alikes? All black and yellow pollinators are not created equal. Next time, take a closer look and you will soon learn to clearly see the differences between honey bees, bumble bees and wasps. Yellow jackets, hornets and paper wasps are all technically types of wasps — Not that it matters should you get stung.
So, what do honey bees look like? And how to tell them from their relatives?
I’ve been searching around for ways to learn as much as I can about beekeeping in a short amount of time. I’m not the most patient person, truth be told. And I’m getting a late start if I wan’t to set up my first hives this spring. It’s already March and I’ve barely done more than browse the mountain of beekeeping books on my table. The ideal scenario would be finding some hands-on classes or a nearby beekeeper who is open to sharing his or her knowledge. But even without this, all hope is not lost! You can learn almost anything from the comfort of your home these days! Even beekeeping.
I found a few places to learn beginning Beekeeping 101 online for those of us eager to get started.
There are some great-looking classes, including Beekeeping 101, over at organiclifeguru.com. I haven’t signed up for this one yet, but it looks great and is relatively inexpensive. The video lessons take place over a summer season showing the cycle of bee life and beekeeping tasks. There’s a sample video that gives a sense of the pacing and content. I’m excited this exists, especially if I can’t find a local class in the next week or two. It also looks like a few of the lessons are free if you do a sign up with the website. Continue reading Where to Learn Beginning Beekeeping 101 Online→