You can save hundreds on your grocery bills by planting an organic vegetable garden in your yard. One of the best ways to ensure the success of a vegetable garden is to have a couple of bee hives. Bees gather pollen and nectar from vegetables and fruit trees as well as flowers. As they travel from one blossom to another some of the pollen remains, increasing the plant’s fertility and ability to reproduce. Bee activities range over about a five-mile area, so your neighbors will also benefit from your hives. And you’ll have delicious honey, much healthier than commercial sugar. A thriving bee hive produces thirty or more pounds of honey per year. If that’s more than you and your family can use, you can always sell it!
Fortunately it isn’t difficult to keep bees. Even children can learn how. If you are contemplating keeping bees in town, check with your city or county authorities to make sure beekeeping is legal there.
Have all your equipment bought, assembled and in place before buying your bees.
Even the mildest-tempered bees will sting in defense of the hive so the first thing prospective beekeepers need is a protective bee suit. This is a coverall which prevents stings and keeps bees from becoming trapped in your clothing. Traditional bee suits are made of heavy nylon, cotton or even leather. A recent innovation in bee suits are the type made of layers of mesh which makes them cool and breathable. A mesh suit protects the bees as well. When a bee stings you, its stinger becomes lodged in your skin or clothing and its attempt to pull away kills it. With a mesh suit there is no chance for the stinger to become trapped and so the bee survives. Some bee suits have built-in hoods with screens to go over your face. With others you wear a wide-brimmed hat with a mesh veil.
Beginning beekeepers should start with two hives. There are numerous books and websites explaining the construction of beehives. Your county cooperative extension should know where you can get them locally or you can buy them from a beekeeping supply company. Several of the oldest and most reputable companies such as Dadant, Draper and Betterbee are still in business. After you have had some experience you could try building your own hives. A recent innovation, the top-bar hive, is easier on the bees and on beekeepers’ backs.
Which Bees Should I Choose?
There are several types of honey bees, each with particular advantages and strengths. A good bee for beginners is the Buckfast, a sweet-tempered German variety bred for hardiness in cold weather, and resistance to parasites. Carniola bees are also mite-resistant and used to cold weather and long winters.
Michelle Obama has Russian bees in her White House organic vegetable garden. She wants to see if they will interbreed with the local bees so that future generations will be more mite-resistant. They are gentle and very productive. The classic honeybee is the Italian which does better in warm climates with mild winters. Look for Survivor Italians as these have been bred from bees that survived mite infestations.
How Should I Buy Bees?
New bee colonies should be started in the early spring after the last hard freeze. Begin shopping for your bees the previous fall. Check the county extension for the names of local beekeepers first. Buying locally means you can inspect and transport them yourself. Like buying local produce, using local bees is better for the environment. They’ll adapt more readily to your plants.
Experts advise beginners to get two colonies so they can support each other as they get settled. The beekeeper you are buying from will probably have appropriate transportation equipment.
You can also buy package bees through the mail. There is some excellent advice on how to install mail-order bees at www.bushfarms.com.
What Will The Neighbors Say?
Nothing, if you maintain your bees and your yard properly. City beekeepers recommend a six foot high fence or bushes. The bees will have to fly up to get out of your yard and there will be less chance of them colliding with people or animals. Provide your bees with a constant source of clean water. Tend to your bees at appropriate times of day so they will remain calm.
Are Bees Disappearing?
You may have heard news stories talking about honeybees disappearing. The mystery of bee colony collapse is being studied by many scientists all over the world. Studies released in the spring of 2010 show that honeybees’ pollen and hives are laced with pesticides, which may be one of many factors contributing to the deaths of colonies. Commercial beekeepers routinely kill thousands of bees at the end of each season instead of allowing them to winter over. Bees are also killed by parasites like varroa and tracheal mites. It has gotten so bad that farms, fields and gardens are actually experiencing a problem with inadequate pollination. By keeping a couple of hives and an organic garden, using natural methods to suppress mites, you are doing your part to keep honeybees alive.