Making your garden grow better and healthier
Raising Honey Bees
Beekeeping is an interesting hobby if you're not allergic to the little guys. It's not an inexpensive hobby and can cost upwards to $300 for a single hive to set it up and running. In most communities you can set up a bee keeping operation, but it's best to check with local regulations to be sure as there are some places where it's illegal. There is a certain risk to raising bees, but these risks can be minimized with a little precaution, having the right equipment, and following proper procedures.
You'll also have to register as a beekeeper with your local state. This will bring an inspector to your operation to verify that everything is as it should be, not only for your protection, but for neighbors and visitors.
Beekeeping can be done almost anywhere that people can live. Honey production varies with climate and seasons and just because you have a bee hive, don't count on making a gazillion pounds of honey every year. Most non-commercial beekeepers do it for the fun of it!
You can expect to make a little money, but nothing to retire on unless you're into high volume beekeeping and provide bees to local agricultural establishments.
Honey is obviously made by honey bees. These little critters fly to millions of flowers, gathering tiny droplets of nectar from the flowers. This is nature's way of attracting insects to the flower bloom to spread pollen to other flowers which in turn produces seeds. The bees return to the hive and convert the nectar by enzyme processes into honey. The bees need the honey as their only source of carbohydrates, or energy food. The honey is stored in wax combs which the bees also make for themselves.
Bees store the honey for use as food during times when flowers aren't blooming. These times are usually winters in temperate climates, but may be dark rainy days or periods of drought. If lots of nectar producing flowers blossom during any period of time, the bees may store more honey than they could ever eat. This excess honey may be harvested by enterprising beekeepers. In some parts of the world a great deal of excess honey may be made. The reasons some areas may be very good and others poor are related to local climates, soil types, and density of nectar-bearing flowers.
Honey comes in many forms. Extracted honey is liquid honey which has been removed from the honey combs by the use of centrifuge equipment. These machines are called extractors. Comb honey is honey which is still in the original wax combs made by the bees. The comb is placed in the extractor and spun. The centrifuge causes the liquid to spin out of the honey combs and is collected. This honey is less adaptable to cooking or mixing in tea, but is relished by connoisseurs who prefer its natural flavors.
Honey comes in lots of different colors and flavors. If you think about it, you will realize that the scents of different flowers are remarkably variable. Clover makes a distinctive flavor honey from a a dandelion. Soil chemistry and honey-comb quality are also factors influencing how honey tastes and looks. Honey may vary from white and clear (usually alfalfa honey from drier, alkali soils) to very dark (buckwheat from acidic soils). Colors between these extremes range through pleasing golden, red, and even green hues!
Honey bee pollination crisis: shortage of bees may reduce crop production
Unprecedented losses of honey bees to a parasitic mite are threatening U.S. crop production, with impacts ranging from almonds to zucchinis.
The American Beekeeping Federation estimates that about 50 percent of the honey bee colonies in California have been killed or severely weakened from this mite.
The varroa mites have decimated their bees, leaving many of the colonies dead and others severely weakened. The death of so many bees is creating a pollination shortage. Beekeepers and almond growers have trucked in beehives from as far as Florida to meet the demand. To help with the pollination and to re-populate empty beehives, beekeepers have air-freighted bees to California from as far away as Australia.
“I have sent bees to California for almond pollination for years, but this year I sent additional hives to help with the crisis,” said David Ellingson, a Minnesota beekeeper who is also president of American Beekeeping Federation.
Beekeepers have been relying upon chemical treatments to control varroa mites, but the mites have become resistant to those chemicals. The mites attach themselves to the honey bees, sucking blood from adult bees and brood, resulting in dead, deformed, and weakened bees, and reducing the colony’s ability to survive.
The shortage of bees is a clear indicator that further pollination shortages for fruit, berries, vegetables, tree nuts, oil seeds and legume crops are likely to develop throughout the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about one-third of the human diet is derived directly or indirectly from insect-pollinated plants and about 80% of this insect pollination is accomplished by honey bees.
“A shortage of honey bees for pollination will impact the quality, quantity and price of many agricultural crops,” said Ellingson. “We are learning of massive losses throughout the U.S.”
The beekeeping industry has initiated efforts of its own to promote honey bee research. The American Beekeeping Federation has established a research and education foundation to collect private funds and direct them to bee research.