A little creature called apis melifera has provoked an interest unequaled by any other insect. The honeybee, as she is more commonly known, has a heritage that may go back twenty million years fulfilling a major role in the pollination of plants. The transfer of pollen from the anther (or male part) to the stigma (the female part) is essential to the formation of the plant’s seeds and the propagation of the species. The plant, to entice the honeybee, secretes nectar.
Enzymes in the honeybee’s honey stomach start the conversion from nectar to honey. Subsequent enzyme action and evaporation of water converts ten pounds of nectar into one pound of honey. Honey is the food of bees but it is also an attraction to other animals: among them man.
Man’s attraction to sweetness led him to forego the pain of bee stings so that he might have honey. Records of man’s encounter with bees exist from as much as 20,000 years ago. Early cave drawings show a man taking honey from a hive while angry bees fly around him.
Folk lore and honey found in ancient Italian and Egyptian tombs, attest to the role that honey has played in mankind’s history. Mead, an alcoholic brew, was made from honey that was mixed with water and allowed to ferment. Honey was used for medicinal purposes and as a major sweetener. Beeswax made fine candles.
What once had been wild bee hives that existed in hollow trees and rocks, now Stylexa became somewhat domesticated beehives in hollow logs, jars, or boxes that were attended by beekeepers. They were moveable in many instances, such as the hives on Egyptian rafts, to follow the flowers as the seasons changed. One problem shared by almost all the early hives was that they were difficult, if possible, to inspect and remove honey from without greatly destroying bees and hive. Gathering honey usually meant killing off some of the hives, mashing the comb once it was removed, and draining off the honey. Later hive designs utilized strips of wood across the top allowing the bees to build free form combs down from them which resulted in hives that were easier to work with but it was not until Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth invented the moveable frame hive that a good design for inspecting bees became available.
With the Langstroth hive, not only could the brood chamber be inspected for disease, but supers could be stacked upward and, since the queen stayed in the lower part of the hive, surplus honey was stored above in frames free from any brood. Though not the first hive to allow expansion, and thus allow for a storage of honey and less crowding of the bees that would force swarming , it was the first design to have comb that was enclosed on four sides by a wooden frame that allowed for easy removal and reuse of the comb. Since four to twelve pounds of honey, and the time, are consumed by bees in the production of one pound of beeswax, honey production could be increased from that alone. Being able to remove surplus honey without having to kill off the bees meant that many more bees were available come spring to gather honey.
Swarming had been the means by which the beekeeper resupplied the hives that had been killed off in the old days. With a hive with removable frames and expandable size, swarming was discouraged. Since swarming greatly reduces the number of bees available to collect nectar and make honey, minimizing swarms maximizes honey production. In suburban areas minimizing swarms can also minimize problems resulting from terrified neighbors as well as controlling hive population and the resulting needs of more time and money to manage them.
The advent of refined white sugar caused honey to be relied upon less than it had been but the recent upsurge in the return to natural foods, for flavor and nutrition, has greatly increased the demand for honey. Food research has also shown additional benefits of honey such as extended freshness of baked goods made with honey.
Even without considering honey production, bees still remain an essential part of nature’s scheme. Population growth and agricultural practices have greatly reduced the number of wild bees (there are 20,000 species of bees in the world) and as a result pollination has fallen off drastically in some areas to the point that the crops would be unprofitable unless bees were brought in to pollinate them. Since only the honeybee and a few other species lend themselves to easily being hived and moved, farmers must now pay from thirty to eighty dollars per hive to insure proper pollination to get a bountiful harvest of fruit or seed. While it is true that the honey bee is not native to the Americans, neither is the apple, peach, cherry and many other plants that depend upon bees for pollination. As well as all the other pleasures that the honeybee has to offer, she is serving the nation through pollination.
II. GETTING STARTED WITH BEES
Buying bees is as important a task as buying a good animal such as a dog or horse: a reliable breeder is one’s best bet. Advice from an experienced beekeeper in selecting a hive of bees will aid the new beekeeper in avoiding getting poor bees and/or equipment. A bargain isn’t a bargain if the bees are sickly or neglected and require that a lot of time and money be spent to get them into proper condition.
One of the easiest ways to get started is to buy bees from a reliable beekeeper in one’s area. An equally good way is to order bees and hive components from suppliers through the mail. When ordering through the mail it must be remembered that sufficient time must be allowed for the hive to arrive, be assembled, and painted before the bees arrive. Supplies for handling the bees, as well as extra supers , must be ordered early enough so that the bees can be inspected and swarming minimized.
Getting started with too little money can lead to the lack of extra supers that need to be added in the late spring or early summer when the honey flow is at its peak and available space is used up. It is most disappointing to discover that a hard working hive has stopped much of its activity to create a new queen and that the old queen and half the hive are sitting as a swarm in a tree or bush. Trying to set up a new hive when not enough equipment was available to handle the original hive is quite a dilemma. The minimum supply to feel fairly safe is the full depth brood chamber and three half depth supers. A basis of two full depth brood chambers and three half depth supers is far more desirable since the two full depth supers can serve as the brood chambers and two half depth supers can be used for surplus honey with the remaining half depth super being used to replace a full super that is removed.
Not over reacting to the first few bee stings is an important part of bee keeping. If one is found to be sensitive to stings, then more caution must be given to proper dress but one must not allow bee stings to cause him to shy away from proper care of the bees. A new hive should not be disturbed too much for the first two weeks, until they feel at home in the hive, but after that, bees can no more be left unattended than if one had bought a dog or a cat and then decided not to feed it. The bees should be inspected every two weeks to a month so that the new beekeeper becomes fully familiar with the bees, their condition, and behavior. Sometimes a mental block develops in regard to being involved with his bees and as a result, the beekeeper loses interest. Bee keeping is not for everyone. While no one enjoys being stung, it can’t be a fear of such a magnitude as to cause the bees to be neglected.
Early Spring is the best time to get started in beekeeping because, as the year progresses, the flowers will come into bloom and the bees will have a chance to collect nectar. However, it can also be a bad time if it is a cold, wet spring with few flowers. To insure the survival of a new hive during the first month, when so much of the hive’s energy and consequently food supply is used in drawing out new comb and raising brood, a solution of sugar water must be feed to the new hive to supplement their needs. The sooner the weather becomes consistently nice the sooner the feeding can be eliminated. There are several ways that sugar water can be fed. The use of an entrance feeder is simplest but it is argued that in cold weather the bees may have difficulty using it. Placing a can or jar of sugar water over the opening in the inner cover, with an empty hive box around it to keep the heat from the hive in, and then placing the outer cover on top is a favored way of many beekeepers. A third method is to remove a frame and replace it with a special trough that can be filled with sugar water and has a board floating on it so the bees won’t drown when they land to drink the sugar water. Pouring granulated sugar in the space between the inner and outer cover can be used in emergencies but is not one of the more desired methods for extended feeding as the bees need water to dissolve the sugar to use it.
Choosing the proper place in the community garden to set up a beehive is a factor that should be considered well in advance to the arrival of the bees. Once the bees “mark the spot” they will not tolerate having the hive moved after they are established in it. Bees do not remember the hive but rather the spot where the hive is relative to fixed landmarks. The standing rule is to move the hive more than two miles or less than six feet at any single move. If more than two miles they will reorient themselves because of unfamiliar surrounding. Less than six feet will appear to be within their navigation accuracy.
A place most desirable for the bees should offer light shade of deciduous trees to help keep the hive cool in the summer time and still allow the sun to warm it in the winter, early spring and late fall. Since the hive location will probably be chosen in the winter or early spring, when no leaves are on the trees and the path of the sun is more southward in the sky, allowance must be made for the effects of having leaves on the trees and a more northern path of the sun. Heavy shade interferes with navigation from the sun and doesn’t allow the sun to warm the hive as early in the morning or as late in the evening. If in direct sunlight, the bees will spend too much time and energy trying to keep the hive cool on hot summer days. It should be noted that some experts feel that keeping bees in direct sunlight tends to make the bees work harder. The actual daytime temperature in the summer plays a major role in that choice. In this area, whenever possible, the entrance of the hive should face south to help in their orientation of the sun, to warm the entrance, and to minimize the effects of having wind, rain and snow blowing in the entrance.
Picking a location with a minimum of traffic in front of the hive is very important. Bees can be rather intolerant to people, cars or animals passing back and forth in front of their entrance. It is especially annoying for a tired bee, returning from the field, to have to try to maneuver around moving objects. Also, on take off they need room to gain altitude without having to avoid moving objects. A fence or hedge five to ten feet in front of the hives will encourage a more rapid ascent and make areas in front of the hedge or fence more freely usable.
III. CONSIDERATION FOR THE BEES
Every so often in talking to people it is possible to meet someone who had bees but had to give them up because they didn’t have the time to properly care for them. Bee keeping is much more involved than getting bees and then letting them care for themselves. It is not fair to the bees, or the surrounding neighbors, to merely leave them on their own. It can’t be assumed that since they were wild it follows that they can care for themselves. The effects of man on the landscape greatly affect the habitat of the bees. Man has upset nature’s balance and the bee is affected by the changes.
Time must be spent to assure that the needs of the bee are met since the beekeeper and not the bees chose the spot where the hive is located. To survive and be productive the bees must have the materials to make the honey as close as possible. Flowers are the major concern since bees can produce honey only from the nectar of flowers. The more vegetation the better the chance of flowers. Maple and basswood produce flowers in the spring but they can also shade out other plants than might supply flowers at other times of the year. A good variety of plants will do a lot to assure some blooms at most times throughout the honey seasons. Fields supply an opportunity for small flowering plants to grow many of which bloom quite profusely. Frequent checking of the hive’s activity related to the number of bees flying in and out of the entrance, can tell a lot about the condition of the hive but the surest check is to actually open the hive and check the amount of nectar being processed, honey being made, and the size of the brood chamber.
Water is an essential item for bees since they use it to dilute the honey to feed to the brood and in the hot weather they bring the water back to the hive and evaporate it to cool the hive. Good clean water, free of chemicals, bacteria or parasites that may harm the bees, is essential to maintaining a healthy, productive hive. Stagnant, dirty water is an easy way to introduce disease into a hive and, if more than one hive uses the same water, disease can be spread quite rapidly. Running water such as obtained from a slightly open faucet or garden hose will work well. Letting a hose run slowly into a pan filled with rocks or floating wood is ideal. It must be remembered that the bees will drown if they land in the water. The rocks or wood provide landing surfaces. Frequent checks must still be made to be sure that the water stays free from contamination. Having the water as close to the hives as possible is important since they waste less time and energy in getting the water, and are more likely to use it than another source, such as the neighbor’s yards, especially their pools, in search of water. People stepping on bees around their pools can be a major source of trouble.