Wanted: More Beekeepers to Sustain Local Stock

By Teresa Woodard

I really don’t need another hobby.  Yes, my teenage kids are growing more independent, but I already have a full plate with gardening, chickens and pets.  So, do I really need to take on beekeeping?

After Saturday’s beekeeping workshop, I’m convinced I should finally put to use our homemade bee box that’s sitting idle in the basement and purchase my first “nuc” or starter colony of bees. I learned beekeeping not only offers sweet honey rewards and promises of increased backyard garden pollination, but more importantly contributes to the local beekeeping community’s grassroots efforts to re-build the Midwest’s honeybee gene pool that was recently wiped out by varroa mites.

Did you know?

  • Bee varieties: In the United States, there are three basic types of honeybees– Italian, Caucasian and Carniolan – and many variations of each as they adapt to local conditions.
  • Southern vs. northern bees:  Bees imported from southern states are not adapted to the Midwest and in turn are less apt to ward off troublesome mites. New beekeepers using local versus imported stock are much more likely to be successful.
  • Drones: Drones, the male bees responsible for mating the queen bee, are in short supply, so a boost in drones numbers will help diversity honeybees’ gene pool.
  • Queens: Queen honeybees mate just once in their lives, within weeks of emerging as an adult. On their maiden flight from the hive, they travel to mate with drones from another colony. They mate in mid-air, at about 20 feet above the ground, with seven to 15 drones.  After mating, the drones die, and the queens return to the hive to lay eggs.  Check out this interesting queen bee mating clip from the movie More Than Honey.
  • Sex determination: A queen determines whether a particular egg is fertilized or not. Unfertilized eggs become drone honey bees, while fertilized eggs develop into female workers and queens.
  • Swarms:  At nearby Mockingbird Meadows, this honey and herb farm takes another approach. It allows its “feral” hives to swarm and also collects swarms from the community as a way to increase bee population.

Perhaps, my fellow bloggers have the right idea. Michael Leach offers his backyard to a neighbor beekeeper who keeps a hive behind his shed (see Oct. 2013 blog post on beekeeping ).  And of course, Deb Knapke creates a safe, chemical-free haven for various pollinators and offers a season-long smorgasbord of their favorite flowers for foraging.

To learn more about beekeeping, check out beekeeping schools offered this spring by state beekeeping associations.

“If bees were to disappear from the globe, mankind would only have four years left to live.” — Albert Einstein

Trendspotting: Beekeeping

Old garden now abuzz with possibilitieschecking hive 4-18-09 resize

Text by Michael Leach; photos by Debra Knapke and Teresa Woodard

When my neighbor John asked about putting a beehive behind my falling-down tool barn, I readily agreed. Keeping bees was on my bucket list because they are under such stress worldwide. The daily to-do list, however, usually trumps the bucket list. This was obviously a win-win deal.

I envisioned occasional jars of honey as rent, not a beekeeper’s suit and smoker. But John brought an extra white suit, complete with hood, veil and elbow-length gloves, along with the bees. When heading out to the hive, we look like a pair of hazmat techs with a wisp of white smoke trailing behind.checking hive 2 4-18-09 resize

The bees have a safe home base in my acre-plus yard. Being overworked, plus being too lazy to keep up a spray schedule and too cheap to buy chemicals, makes me a mostly organic gardener by default. Signs of backyard eco-health are sometimes startling — a clod of dirt that hops. It’s only a toad.

More than my appearance has changed since the bees arrived. For several years garden planning focused mostly on coping with maintenance. Such is the price of allowing my passion to run wild years ago when there was more energy than insight into what I was creating. (Dr. Frankenstein no doubt suffered from a similar problem.)

From now on, when there’s time, money and gumption, landscape beds will be renovated with an eye toward flowers, whether on trees, shrubs, vines, perennials or annuals. Bees need plenty of food. For instance, a huge order of snow crocus is planned so there’ll be a treat for the bees when they emerge on those warmish days of early spring.Crocus

First they have to survive winter. John cooks up sugar-water syrup, similar to hummingbird food, to fill the hive’s feeder trays. The bees transform this into honey. When the stack of three wooden bee boxes becomes too heavy to lift, they should have sufficient honey stored for winter.

While our share of their efforts is perhaps a year away, the bees are already enriching my life. Their gentle humming is a welcome addition to the nature chorus of birds and summer insects. Plus there’s an amazing sense of interdependence that makes gardening seem vital. I grow flowers to enjoy, but now to feed bees as well. Someday they will feed me.

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