Archive for the ‘Bee Keeping’ Category

The Bee Keeper Next Door

August 16, 2017
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Week 1; photo Jonathan Long

Excerpts from a recent interview with Creative Consultant & Director of the Magazine @NutsandLemons; Michelle Niellose. I want to thank Michelle for the excellent provocation to provide some insights into “The Bee Keeper Next Door.”

 

How did I get started? I have always been intrigued with gardens and growing things since a little boy. Growing up in Oregon, a neighbor had a small farm including honey bees. I remember getting a mason jar filled with honey and comb and thinking that was the greatest thing in the world. Later on in school, one of my favorite characters from the JKK Tolkien book “The Hobbit” was a bee keeper named Beorn and I really

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image created by the Brothers Hildebrandt

thought he was a cool character because he was ferocious but at the same time mellow. As I gained additional experiences, I really like the idea of growing and producing some of my own food or at least understanding the process. While living in Germany I feel in love with the whole idea of developing a vineyard and the wine making process but the realities of military life were a barrier to really exploring that idea. Once I retired from active military service I decided I would make time to become a bee keeper – that I could do.

What should a person do if they want to become a “bee keeper?” The decision to start keeping honey bees should not be taken lightly because after all, these are living things. When you first start out you will be contacting a local bee keeping to purchase bees and  “hiving” a box of bees into a new hive (and you

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Package of Bees; photo Jonathan Long

really should have two hives for several good reasons). A three pound box of bees includes one queen and about 10,000 bees so you will be caring for about 20,000 bees initially. This number will grow at the height of summer to about 50,000 bees, so that’s a lot of buzzing going on. Most of the time, the majority of these inhabitants will be in the bee hive so you won’t really see that many at one time. The first thing to do is read a book or three on beginning bee keeping and look for a local bee keepers association to take a class.  That is your first step – its best to take a class over the winter because then you have time to order your bees, order and prepare your hive boxes (referred to as a “deep”) and pick out your location.

 

How does a person determine if becoming a “bee keeper” is right for them? One of the keep factors to consider first if you have the

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Initial Deep + Feeder; photo Jonathan Long

necessary room for a bee hive (the two can sit right next to each other without any problem). You don’t have to live in the country to keep bees as there is a whole sub-culture dedicated to roof top – city bee keeping – that’s not the issue. Other humans are the issue. In planning your location called the “bee yard’ you have to consider two things: (1) how close is the location to your and your neighbors outside living area?  If within 100 feet or less of where you or  neighbors occupy outside spaces, probably too close. Now this is not because the bee’s will seek you out (they won’t – they don’t care) but you could be in their flight path to where ever they go on a daily basis (water sources included). This is related to the next item (2).  Position the bee yard in relation to sunrise and the suns path of travel during the day.  The hive opening should face South East (SE) cardinal direction.  This is so the sun most quickly warms up the hives entrance and gets things going (any day with a temperature over 60 degrees F will enable a Queen to lay).  If structures or dense trees don’t allow a somewhat clear path to the SE then you have a challenge.

 

What are the general guidelines for the maintenance of hives and when to harvest? Lets back up a bit – before you can maintain a hive you have to decide on hive styles, source and purchase. Your local bee keepers association can help and there are several great companies such as Brushy Mountain or Pigeon Mountain that can provide you supplies.

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Centrifuge Extraction; Photo Jonathan Long

Once you decide what style of hive, you then need to treat and protect the wooden hive bodies with either stain or paint. I added a small Decoupage image, again from the Tolkien works (art by the Brothers Hildebrandt) to each box which helps the bee distinguish which hive is theirs.  However, this is not necessary and they will focus in on the wood grain or another feature or the Queens pheromone to figure out where to go. The you have to plan on when your boxed bees arrive and when to hive them which sets up your new bee hives with their occupants. So there is a lot to talk about here with feeding and caring for a new colony but what I like it’s really just once a week that a bee keeper needs to go into the hive to look around. If you start out with a super strong hive you may be able to harvest the first year but really the second year is more reasonable – and then it’s usually the first week in July to pull the honey supers off which is where the bees store that portion of their work that can be harvested without damaging the hive.

 

 

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Fresh Honey Comb; photo Jonathan Long

What can you create with “honey bee” products at home? Well obviously the first product is pure “organic” wild flower honey. Now a word about truth in labeling – unless you live in the middle of a wilderness without any other humans around for 50 miles your honey is not 100% organic because its likely there are some forms of federalization or husbands going on but our intent it’s pretty much organic because there is no chemical or heat treatment – it come from the hive and comb into the jar. Second – again unless your bees are in the middle of a fifty acres clover field or a 20 acre orange grove, your honey will have mixed pollen and nectar from lots of different plants. So in this case its most likely “wild flower” honey. In my case we have made shaving cream, soap, ice cream, whip cream, cocktails and liquors all with home grown honey.

 

Important “do’s and Don’ts.” (1) can’t be in a hurry – everything to do with keeping bees is slow and steady; (2) always use a natural fuel when creating smoke to calm the

smoker

Smoker; photo Jonathan Long

bees in the hive – you don’t want chemical gases from plastics to injury your occupants; (3) take time to hang out in the bee yard and just watch the bees come and go – you will be amazed at the little door step hive entrance dances that going on or mini battle between guard bees and infiltrators and even the cold hard reality or when members of the hive have completed their life span and are removed from the hive to tumble lifeless in from of the colony. Each hive is its own operating environment unto its self.  The colony somehow together makes all the decisions, not the Queen; from when to raise female workers to male drones to even when a new Queen should be raised.  Take time to watch and you will be amazed.

 

Are there certain flowers that can be grown in a “bee keepers” garden that are popular with bees? Anything that has heavy pollen like sun flowers, butterfly bush, or lots of sweet nectar like honey suckle or gardenias (all in my backyard). There are lots of reference guides to help an aspiring bee keeping plant attractive and beneficial plants around the yard.

Does the type of flower affect the honey and or wax? So short answer is yes as mentioned before with regard to Clover Honey, or Apple Blossom Honey or Orange Blossom Honey. These will all impart a different level of sweetness but that not the thing

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Italian Honey Bee; photo Jonathan Long

for me – I think its really the trees around your bee yard and the pollen that they produce that creates a bigger impact. It’s the pollen that helps develop resistance to allergies and I think it’s the pollen that imparts so much of the distinction and character to the honey. The honey’s color will be directly impacted by the tree pollen the bees eat (bees live on both pollen and honey – the honey comes from the nectar).  So honey from a heavy pine forest will be different than honey from oak, beech and ash. Honey from sourwood is defiantly prized for its distinct taste (therefore the expense).

 

Conclusion – keeping bees is just that, you don’t really raise bees – they raise themselves but they do better when a bee keeper looks after them.  In the end it’s a somewhat symbiotic relationship; we give them a safe a secure home and feed them when they

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Bee Yard; photo Jonathan Long

need it – they provide us with excess production of their honey.  The other cool thing about being a bee keeper is our actual contribution to the world. A lot of people talk about social issues or the environment but by keeping bees a person has a direct and first hand impact on making the world a better place. I have read that cross-pollination by bees helps at least 30% of the world’s crops and 90% of our wild plants to thrive. I believe pretty much that without the help of honey bees, many plant species —including food crops—would die off. I understand that about 50% of our oxygen comes from the ocean phytoplankton but the other 50% comes from photosynthesis on land (trees, shrubs, grasses, plants). So if blending environmental causes, helping make the world a better place, and enjoying the sweet output of honey bees is your thing, then bee keeping might be a great fit.

 

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