Thursday, August 28, 2014

BEE Aware!!

Until I have bee hives of my own,
these will have to appease me!
For about 40 years, whenever I heard the word honey, I always thought of Winnie-the-Pooh, and his endless quest for "a little smackerel of something sweet".  But, in the last five years or so, I have begun to think of honey and bees in a different light. Probably ten years ago, I began to hear of “concerns” with bees and their behavior.  Articles analyzing bees were making their way to magazines with other than wildlife titles. We were beginning to realize that their colonies were drastically disappearing; even the plants that they pollinated were on different blooming schedules from the bees’ emergence in the spring. Red flags were beginning to go up, but few were noticing.

9 Acres of Alfalfa!
Plenty for these hives to eat!
(A friend's farm)

Recently we are being told of colony collapse disorder (CCD). When this occurs, the bees literally vanish.  Investigating the hive will give you no clues—apparently there is nothing inside. No dead bees, no signs of disease or illness, nothing at all.  This phenomena is occurring on a large scale; commercial beekeepers are losing thousands of their colonies. With fewer colonies to pollinate, crop production is bound to be affected.  Reduction in crop production should have us worried, or at the very least, attentive! Something that also affects bees, that we rarely hear about, is the Varroa mite. These mites gauge into the bees and drink their blood.  From most books and articles that I have read, it seems that the typical backyard beekeeper has this mite to fear more than CCD. However, all this information is just my interpretation of what I have read.

S-l-o-w-l-y moving the hives,
in preparation of removing honey.
Exciting to watch.
 I got to wear the gear, too!
Thinking of bee-ing a beekeeper? I’ve heard it been said that beekeeping has been deemed as the “extreme sport” of animal husbandry. However, if it’s something that you’d like to do (it is on my dream list, too), then by all means read all you can before you get the bees in the hopes that although you can learn by trial and error, it would be best not to do this with live creatures.  They may swarm and leave your hives “high and dry”. Or, you may take the honey at the wrong time and deplete their food source for the winter causing them to die. Neither of these options are what you would be hoping for.

Gently brushing the stray bee or two.
Those are the combs. An extractor will be used
so that the combs will be reused.
Saves the bees much work and effort!

There are so many ways to learn beekeeping – books, blogs, tutorials, and my favorite—other beekeepers.  Sometimes it’s just easier to hear it straight from a source.  Plus, if you can find a beekeeper near you, then you have an insider’s information as to what works or doesn’t work within your biome's sub-environment.  

There are so many equipment choices, Queen bee choices, hive choices, and methods of extracting the honey.  Some choices are made for ease, others for ethical reasons, still others just because that’s how they were taught.  You are responsible for making the best choices for you and your bees. You can do great teamwork together, but you need to be in tune to their behavior.  This will become easier with time and from observations.

Workers a bit confused,
but we encouraged them to move to the
 next hive that has been prepared

Members of the Hive

Workers-  are female bees and they usually do not lay eggs.  They tend to the Queen, tend to the nursery of young bees, build the comb, store food.  In essence, they do it all.  (Ever feel like that?!)

      Drones-  are male bees and do nothing other than mate with the Queen when she is out of the hive. They don’t collect the pollen and they can’t sting. There mating job is so important, that even though they do nothing else, a typical healthy colony in mid-summer may actually have up to 1,000 drones!

           Queen- largest in the bee hive. A healthy queen may lay 2,000 eggs in a summer’s day.

Honey sources  (found in an article by Oscar H. Will III)

Alfalfa- light color with mild floral flavor
Clover- clear to amber with a very mild flavor
Buckwheat- very dark and very flavorful
Tupelo- light greenish golden color with mild but famous flavor
Goldenrod- yellow with medium-strong flavor
Orange Blossom – light color with mild citrus-flower flavor
Flowers and weeds provide nectar and pollen
for the Worker bees.
Manicured lawns and herbicides are the worse
thing you can do for the bee colonies.
If you 'd rather not have hives, you can still help!
Consider some "natural" areas in your yard.

There is so much information now available about beekeeping. No matter what your learning style, you will be sure to find something.  Once you begin reading, you’re sure to be hooked. Whether or not you choose to be a beekeeper, your appreciation for these little fuzzy creatures will surely blossom!

I have read so many books and magazines on beekeeping and two that I’d like to recommend are:

Magazine—Grit Barnyard Series. Guide to Backyard Bees and Honey – Feb 2014 (from cover to cover, this magazine is filled with wonderful information, in an easy to follow format.)

Book – Homegrown Honey Bees.Beekeeping your First Year, from Hiving to Honey Harvest. By Alethea Morrison.  Storey Publishing (this book is for the novice and gives thorough information from the perspective that you must know nothing. Easy to skip around and find chapters suited for your level of knowledge.

May good luck Bee with you!

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