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Beekeepers are some of the most passionate hobbyists in the world. If you have any doubts, just ask the next beekeeper you meet to tell you about his/her bees. You may be in for a long conversation. But, why keep bees? What is so interesting about this common insect?
Why Keep Bees?
The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses Beekeeping has a lot to offer
Today, master beekeeper Charlotte will share her knowledge about raising bees and a bit of encouragement for those of us who are interested in beekeeping.
Is having your own hive is something you have ever considered? I encourage you to investigate farther. The keeping of bees is a traditional skill that has been practiced for thousands of years. Even today, there are many reasons to pursue a beekeeping adventure. And, each beekeeper has a personal beekeeping goal.
1. Beehives require little space
While honey bees may forage miles from the hive, an actual beehive does not require much space. Many urban backyards are large enough for a hive or 2.
Don’t be surprised to find beehives on the roof of a downtown building. The honey bees will find food in the surrounding area. You can also plant forage crops to be utilized by your bee colonies. However, they usually find plentiful food and pollen in the natural environment.
If you live in a busy downtown area, or deep in the woods, your bees may need to be fed more often. However, they usually find food nearby without the beekeeper needing to plant for them.
2. Almost anyone can become a beekeeper
Working with honey bees does require some lifting. And, those hive boxes get really heavy. In fact, the older I get – the heavier they seem.
Heavy lifting woes do not have to prevent you from becoming a beekeeper. You can work around that by using smaller sized hive equipment. I keep extra boxes on hand to allow dividing the weight. I temporarily transfer some frames to another box. While this is a bit of extra work, it saves your back.
Beekeeping can be a fun family project. With proper training and protective gear, even the younger family members can participate. It is a very educational experience to see bee life up close.
Your first honey harvest is thrilling, no matter what age you are. Oh, the excitement of providing food for the family from your own beehive.
3. Keeping bees for honey
Any activity that allows you to produce food on your own land is a good idea. Due to a changing environment and changes in our modern food system, home food production is more important today than ever.
We have access to abundant food, but who knows where it comes from or what is in it? I would rather not buy honey from a large retail store. And never, honey that originates from outside the United States.
Having a couple of beehives will produce enough honey for normal family needs. If you have time to manage even more hives, your honey harvest will increase as well.
4. Honey is the perfect food for storage
Honey is sweet and delicious. We love to eat it raw or add it to our morning cup of coffee. It helps baked goods to remain moist and usable for a long time. But, your new harvest of honey has one more surprise. It never spoils.
5. Honey is more than food
Honey is much more than a sweet, energy treat. It can also be used for other purposes around the homestead.
For hundreds of years, field doctors have used raw honey on wounds. The antibacterial properties of honey promote healing. Have you ever had a sore throat or a cough? A large spoon of raw honey can ease the discomfort of coughs and colds. Honey is a useful first aid tool to have in your kitchen cabinet.
6. Beeswax is valuable
Honey is not the only hive product to consider. If you are a beekeeper who harvests honey, you will have excess beeswax. Beeswax has value. You can use it for your own projects or sell it to others.
Beeswax is used to:
- make candles
- water-proof boots and tarps
- make various healthcare products
Don’t throw away good beeswax.
7. Keep bees for pollination
Believe or not, many people become beekeepers but have no interest in honey! What? Why keep bees if you don’t want honey? One word: pollination. Honey bees gather nectar and pollen from blooming plants. In the process, they transfer some grains of pollen from flower to flower. This is called pollination.
Good crop pollination results in larger crop yields and nicer fruit. This means more apples, peaches, and pears in your orchard as a result of bee pollination. And, it also means a larger crop from your vegetable garden.
Depending on the number of other pollinators in your area, your hives may pay for themselves by increased crop yields alone. And your neighbors will love having the bees come over and pollinate their gardens as well.
8. Beekeeping can provide extra income
Want to provide extra cash flow to your homestead? With proper management, your beehives can be a valuable income-producing asset.
Extra honey and beeswax can be stored indefinitely or until needed. You can trade the extra hive products for things that you need but do not produce. Or, sell the extra inventory for much-needed cash.
If you learn good beekeeping management, you may even have extra bees to sell in the spring. It is easy to find buyers for healthy honey bee colonies.
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Preparation Is the Key to Beekeeping Success
The most important thing to understand before becoming a beekeeper is that it is not easy. Beekeeping involves hard work but more importantly, it requires education and preparation.
If you try to bumble through this activity without proper training, your chances of success will not be great. Also, you will be the cause of bee colonies that are unhealthy and unproductive.
Fortunately, beekeeping education is easy to acquire. Check with local beekeeping associations for beginner beekeeping classes. These classes are usually held in the Spring. Online classes, such as mine, are helpful to beginning beekeepers who cannot attend a local class.
Check out beekeeping books, videos, and articles available online and in print. Study until you have a good basic understanding of bee management.
Then, you should think about local conditions. Find out how beekeepers in your region manage their hives. This is valuable information that you will not have to learn through trial and error. A bee is a bee no matter where she lives but climate conditions change. The needs of a honey bee colony in Florida is much different than the needs of a colony in North Dakota.
Beekeeping Is Not Easy
Being a beekeeper is not always easy. You will have some highs and lows. But as your experience grows so will your successes in beekeeping.
Why keep bees? We keep bees because they add value to our lives. Nothing feels better than opening a healthy hive of your own bees. And nothing tastes better than that first jar of honey from your own hive.
Beekeeper Charlotte Anderson is a Master Beekeeper who lives in upstate South Carolina. She and her husband have a small farm with chickens, donkeys and beehives. Through her website Carolina Honeybees, she educates beekeepers and shares her love of bees. Want to pick her brains about beekeeping? Join her beekeepers group.