A Guide to Beekeeping from Flowers to Harvesting
With the decline of the honeybee population in the United States, beekeeping has become a popular backyard hobby for many nature enthusiasts. Beekeeping is a great way to support the local ecosystem by creating a hive of your very own pollinators. Beekeeping has a rich history dating back thousands of years, but the basic principles have stayed the same. Even kids can get in on the fun: Beekeeping has been shown to be an educational, unique hobby for children to learn about nature. Keep reading to find out more about the process of beekeeping.
Beekeeping is a practice that dates back to ancient Egypt. Egyptians used horizontal hives made from straw and dried mud to house their bees. The bees were calmed using a dish containing incense, and the honeycomb was then removed by hand and placed into jars. Upright hives replaced horizontal as beekeeping became popular in Central Europe. These hives were created from straw to make them easy to move. In 1851, Lorenzo Langstroth invented the moveable frame hive. Although the design has been tweaked over the years, modern beekeepers still use this kind of hive to house their bees.
Bee colonies consist of three castes of bee: the queen bee, about 30,000-50,000 female worker bees, and a number of male drones. The queen can live for up to three years, and she is able to lay half a million eggs throughout her life. Worker bees collect pollen and bring it back to the hive for honey production. Drones are unable to sting and do not collect pollen: Their purpose is to fertilize the eggs and keep the hive warm during cold seasons.
How Honey is Made
Honey is created when worker bees collect flower nectar and bring it back to the hive. Bees have two stomachs: their normal one and the one used to store flower nectar. When this stomach is full, it can weigh almost as much as the bee itself! After returning to the hive, they pass the nectar to other worker bees through their mouths. The bees "chew" the nectar and spread it throughout the honeycomb, where the constant vibrations of the bees' wings help it evaporate and turn into a thick, sticky syrup. When the honeycomb is full, the bees seal it off with wax.
Traditional beekeeping includes the use of a fixed-comb hive, which cannot be moved. These types of hives are popular in Africa, South America, and Asia. They are typically made from grass, gourds, logs, clay pots, or barrels. Traditional beekeepers usually own several hives and wait for one of them to be occupied by a colony. The traditional beekeeping process can be dangerous to bees because many are often killed while the honey is being collected.
Modern beekeeping is much safer for bees. It employs the use of a type of moveable hive known as the Langstroth Hive, which keeps the bees safe when collecting honey. Protective clothing is a very important part of beekeeping. Beekeepers generally wear a light-colored beekeeping suit that includes a hat, scarf, and gloves. It's very important to regularly wash these clothes because any remaining stingers will send out an "alarm" pheromone to the hive colony.
Much like the ancient Egyptians, modern beekeepers use smoke to subdue the bees. A smoker calms the bees, masks alarm pheromones, and allows the beekeeper to safely remove the hive without being stung. Burlap, twine, pine needles, and sumac are popular fuel for smokers.
For many people, beekeeping has become an enjoyable backyard hobby. These backyard colonies are typically small and designed to pollinate local gardens. Urban beekeeping is wonderful for promoting biodiversity, and these bees are great for pollinating your flower or vegetable gardens. When your local bee population is healthy, you will see a huge increase in the amount of produce and flowers in your garden. It's also wonderful to have a local source of honey right in your backyard! Even in populated areas, one can gather small colonies. It's what makes flower delivery in NYC possible.
Honeybees have been disappearing because of the overuse of pesticides, disease, and parasites. The bee population in the U.S. is not currently high enough to pollinate the amount of fruits and vegetables that we need to sustain us. Backyard bees tend to be healthier than bees kept in commercial hives because they are less susceptible to parasites and other dangers.
Beekeeping for Kids
Caring for bees is a wonderful way for children to learn about the local ecosystem. Beekeeping has been shown to develop patience and a sense of self-esteem in kids. Because bees sense the emotions of the beekeeper, it is never a good idea to open the hive when angry. This can be a great learning tool for kids to practice controlling their temper.
Safety is the most important factor when introducing children to bees. Always have an antihistamine close by just in case an allergic reaction occurs, and make sure that kids always wear a protective beekeeper's suit. The suit should fit a little loosely. It's also important for children to learn the proper way to handle the frame lifters (that pull screens from the hive) and use the smoker.
- How To Start Beekeeping
- Beekeeping Basics (PDF)
- Beginning Beekeeping
- The Different Types of Honey Bees (PDF)
- Beekeeping/Apiculture (PDF)
- America's Beekeeping Federation: Beginning Beekeeping
- Beginning Beekeeping: Preparation
- Beekeeping Basics (PDF)
- Who's Who in American Beekeeping: Organizations by State
- Austin Flower Delivery
- Backyard Beekeeping Part 1: Hiving the Bees (video)
- Beekeeping and Honey Production (PDF)
- The Importance of Honey: The Honey-Making Process
- Lorenzo L. Langsthroth and the Quest for the Perfect Hive (PDF)
Written by Ava Rose