Skip to comments.Sweet little hobby (Happy (belated) National Honey Bee Awareness Day!!!)
Posted on 08/23/2010 9:22:39 AM PDT by DCBryan1
Sweet little hobby
Create a buzz, and help distressed bees, with your own hive
JANET CARSON SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
While some people fear bees and many worry about getting stung, these little insects more than redeem themselves as the primary pollinators of plants worldwide. Today is National Honeybee Appreciation Day well deserved because its estimated that more than 80 percent of flowering plants and almost a third of human food crops need bees as pollinators.
Reports have been claiming the loss of bee populations is due to mites, pesticides and human activities. Many species of pollinators, including bees, are in decline around the world because of destruction of their natural habitat.
There is something you can do to help: Become a beekeeper in your own backyard, an increasingly popular hobby.
Bees have been an important player in pollination for thousands of years. The Egyptians were the first to attempt beekeeping in artificial hives as early as 2400 B.C. They would load barges with colonies of bees and travel up and down the Nile River, following flowers as they bloomed.
BEES ON THE MOVE
When Europeans explored and colonized other parts of the world, they also transported and established honeybees on nearly every continent. European honeybees arrived in North America in the 1600s. Before their arrival, bee pollination took place thanks to the roughly 4,000 native species of bees.
Many of these natives are solitary and dont make honey, but still play a huge role in pollination. This happened even as the European honeybee spread into the wild and began to displace some of the native species.
Then, in the 1990s, two kinds of parasitic mites were accidentally introduced from Asia and ultimately caused great declines in honeybee populations.
Because of this plunge in honeybee numbers, many gardeners have started exploring options to aid pollination in their own gardens. Some construct hives in their backyards, while others rent honeybeehives during the growing season, and still others try to invite the solitary bees.
But if you think you might like a little honey to go along with pollination help, consider putting in a beehive. Bees can be successfully kept in a normal backyard. There are even rooftop beekeepers in large cities. Keeping bees in urban areas, however, requires slightly more vigilance than keeping bees in a rural setting.
Most towns do not have laws forbidding honeybees within city limits, but some communities may have regulations that restrict the number or placement of hives. In Little Rock, for example, there is a limit on how many beehives you can have based on the size of your property.
SWEETEN UP THE NEIGHBORS
Bear in mind that you could be blamed if your neighbor is stung, despite his burden of proof that a particular bee came from one of your hives. So you want to avoid disturbing your bees when neighbors are working, relaxing or entertaining in their backyards. Power equipment such as lawn mowers and leaf blowers can disturb bees and make them act defensively.
Place your beehives away from these potential situations, but where they can face the morning sun and are out of heavy traffic areas. (And of course, a jar or two of pure sweet honey will always go a long way toward good public relations with neighbors who arent too sure about your hobby.)
To get started, order your beehive. You need the hive body or box, which is usually constructed of wood. Inside are eight to 10 wooden frames to hold the honeycombs. You also need to start with foundations either sheets of beeswax or plastic embossed with a honeycomb pattern, which slide into each frame. This gives bees a starting point to build standardized honeycomb cells.
Many first-time beekeepers buy a starter kit, which comes with the components for the hive plus a hat, veil and leather gloves; a smoker; and a hive tool. The cost of a kit ranges from $150 to $300. As a beekeeper, you will probably get stung occasionally. But with proper clothing and care, the risk is small. Protective clothing can include a full bee suit coverall, hat, veil and gloves. But many experienced beekeepers only wear long-sleeve shirts and the hat and veil.
If you have ever seen a beekeeper in full regalia, you will notice it is white, because bees tend to act more defensively against dark colors. This theory is likely based on the fact that many of their natural predators, including bears, skunks and badgers, are dark-colored.
The smoker is an essential accessory. It is used just before working your beehives to make the bees more docile. Pine needles or other small tinder is put into the smoker and lighted. The resulting smoke is then directed into the beehive. When bees are disturbed, they give off an alarm pheromone, which cause many of the bees to unite to protect the hive. The smoke helps mask the scent of the pheromone so that it doesnt alert as many bees. This helps keep you protected.
A common hive tool completes your beekeeping kit. It typically has a flat blade on one end and a rounded blade on the other. It helps you pry boxes apart, then pry out, scrape and clean the frames and the hive itself. Look at any bee supply catalog and you will find that just like any other hobby, there are myriad gadgets and gizmos you can buy. But these basic kit contents provide a good starting point.
Now you are ready for the bees. Again, mail order is the most common way to buy bees, but occasionally you might find a local beekeeper with bees to spare. Most bees are sold in a 3-pound starter package containing about 10,000 bees, which usually costs between $75 and $100. (A healthy hive will eventually have 40,000 to 50,000 bees.) The queen arrives in a separate small cage.
First, you pour the starter package of bees into your hive. At this stage, the bees are gentle because they have nothing to defend and are happy to get out of their mailing cage. Next, place the queen, still in her cage, into the hive. The bees eat her cages candy plug as they become acclimated to each other and to the queen. After several days, this feeding releases the queen, having allowed the bees time to accept her.
After releasing the bees, youll need to leave them alone for three or four days for this process to occur. Then you smoke the hive and open it to be sure the queen has been released and see if shes laying eggs. You should see patches of honeycomb where the bees have started working and masses of tiny white eggs. If everything is going well, close up the hive and let them take care of themselves. Check your hive every week or two.
FRESH WATER REQUIRED
Bees should always be provided with a source of fresh water near their hives; circulating water will prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Otherwise the bees may go to neighborhood pools, hot tubs, birdbaths and fountains. If you are using an open watering container, use rocks or floating pieces of wood, bark or mulch for the bees to land on while they drink.
Bees ability to fly far and fast has greatly contributed to their success. They reach speeds of 15 miles per hour, allowing them to forage up to three miles from their hives.
A bees antennae are covered with thousands of sensory cells for touch and smell. Its sense of smell is much more acute than that of any mammal and is essential in helping them find food and in communicating with other hive members. These sensitive organs also relay information about air speed and orientation during flight.
Feathery hairs cover a bees body. Pollen grains stick to these hairs as bees forage on flowers. Some pollen is transferred to new plants, resulting in fertilization of the flowers. The rest is combed into pollen baskets on their hind legs and carried back to the hive as food.
A long tongue, or proboscis, takes up nectar from deep inside flowers and is carried back to the hive in their honey stomach. There they regurgitate the nectar to a house bee, who then transfers it into a honeycomb cell. Transferring the nectar from bee to bee adds enzymes to the nectar, which begins the process of converting it into honey. The whole process takes several weeks.
First-year hives normally dont produce large amounts of surplus honey. Bees use the honey as food in the winter, so you cant overharvest honey during any year and expect your bees to survive.
Most people worry about being stung. A bee uses its stinger only for defense. The end of the stinger is barbed, like a fish hook, so it can penetrate skin but not easily come out.
When a bee stings, the stinger itself plus an attached venom sac are torn from her abdomen, and she will die shortly afterward. So bees try not to sting unless provoked.
Arkansas has nearly 1,500 registered beekeepers, most of whom are hobbyists who maintain fewer than five hives. They collectively manage more than 50,000 colonies. In 2009, the Natural State ranked No. 9 nationally in production of honey, with 2.1 million pounds produced.
Arkansas is fortunate to have its own honeybee specialist, Jon Zawislak, hired two years ago by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture to help strengthen beekeeping programs. Zawislak works with beekeeping groups. He has posted detailed information on bees and beekeeping on the Cooperative Extension Service website, uaex.edu, and is available to present programs statewide and work with beekeeping groups or individuals who want to learn more about beekeeping. He is also interested in starting a Master Beekeepers group in Arkansas. To get in touch with Zawislak, contact your county extension office.
Special to the Democrat-Gazette/DON STEINDRAUS
A European honeybee gathers nectar and pollen from a spiderwort, or Tradescantia.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JANET CARSON
Bee expert Jon Zawislak shows a frame from a beehive with capped honey and nectar the bees store for food.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JANET CARSON
Smoking the bees makes them more docile while the beekeeper works the hive.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JANET CARSON
Worker bees, all females, are busy at their tasks.
(Note: contrary to local belief, the common Tick, is NOT the state insect, nor is the chigger).
One of my best memories as a child was with an elder in our church who took me to his beehive in his backyard. He taught me how to smoke the bees while he collected honey and gave me a piece of honeycomb to eat. Bliss.
It brought back memories of grade school when a kind, old beekeeper came into our class and showed us a glass display hive.
I actually learned 40 years later that I still hold the same facination with bees as I did back then..........
.....now if I can just dig up some rare dinosaurs in my backyard.......
I have a big patch of Bee Balm in my yard. Boy is that accurately named. Honey bees swarm over it. Wonder where they come from?
Within 2-3 miles! About the same as humans running 150 miles to get a hamburger, fries and shake, and then run 150 miles back home and giving it to the family and only taking a fry and a sip for yourself.
You and I must be kin.
Hardest working girls in nature! That's for sure!
Also, someone told me that bees/honey is in the top 10 references in the Bible. Dunno if that's true or not. Someone might chime in on that one!
I’ve been keeping bees for the last two years, too. They certainly are interesting critters. I just re-queened for the first time.
***European honeybees arrived in North America in the 1600s.***
Called by the Indians, “The White Man’s flies”, when they showed up well in advance of the white men and announced to the Indians that Europeans were closing in.
They have been having a feast lately on my hummingbird feeders. I am happy to see them, and the hummers don’t seem to mind them as they’re much faster and easily evade the bees.
Awesome post! Thank you. I tried to smoke bees once. But they kept flying out of the papers.
(rim shot) LOL
This is my second year beekeeping as well. My girls last year lasted up until January. Then the cold and moisture did them in. You learn by doing. Unfortunately, when you screw up they suffer. I put in new packages (2 hives) this spring and they’ve each got almost 2 full shallow supers fully capped plus a capped deep below them and above the bottom deep. Now, if I can just help them make it through this winter............
Having lived in the rice country of Lonoke County for over 13 years - I just don’t buy that the bee is the state bug...
Far more mosquitoes than bees....