Catch the Buzz

243516_107034296054724_1042795_oThe decision to become a beekeeper isn’t one taken lightly by most folks. For me, it was a promise I made myself for when I had a bit more time to dedicate to learning everything I could about honeybees. Forgetting the fact that, while sunning myself as a teenager on Mother’s patio, the mere buzz of a bee around my head sent me sprinting down over the lawn, yelling…, I dove headlong into my new hobby.

The first thing I did to prepare for my new venture was to read everything I could get my hands on about apiculture. I even joined the local beekeeping club and made many new friends in beekeeping circles.  It has been my experience that beekeepers are very nice and intelligent people and they take the beekeeping enterprise very serious. Sometimes spending as much as $700 for one special queen bee. (yes, one bee)

I was lucky to meet and have a seasoned bee mentor who came to my property to help search for the best possible spot to set up my hives.  The best place is one facing a southeasterly direction for full sun in the winter and with trees that regrow leaves for shade in the summer. In addition, my bee mentor accompanied me to the honey farm to pick up my two packages of bees that were driven on a flatbed truck from Georgia to Pennsylvania. Each package contains about 50,000 honeybees, a queen bee and her attendants (female bees who feed, clean and care for the queen until the hive gets established). That’s right. She has staff.

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Worcestor Honey Farm, Worcestor, PA
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Packages of honeybees.

Once my hives were home, I took to setting up my hive boxes which need to be placed on level ground so, as the tower grows, it prevents tipping. Each hive box contains between 8-10 frames for use by the bees for making comb, storing honey and raising brood.

The hives are formed by stacking the boxes on top of each other to form a tall tower. There are entrance holes at the base and top of each hive along with a reinforced lid. The bees are free to enter and exit at will.

The queen bee arrives enclosed in a tiny box with her attendants and a small piece of fondant (sugar) for food. The queen is the larger bee on the far right in the picture below. And the fondant, similar to sugary, white cake icing, can be seen on the far left.558099_267290330029119_14501273_n

After the bees are transferred into their new hives, the Queen’s box is attached to one of the frames. It is here Her Highness will remain for 5-7 days until her pheromones have spread throughout the new hive and the worker bees recognise her as their new reigning queen. (All hail the new Queen!) After a few days, the queen bee is released from her tiny box to join her subjects.

In the meantime, the bees must be fed some sugar-water until the they are able to build comb, find food and start storing honey reserves. Once the queen is released into the hive, she will begin to lay eggs, as many as 2,000 a day, to replenish the workforce and maintain the hive. Within weeks, my bees had made honeycomb, stored honey, and started raising the next generation of young bees. The bee larva are clearly visible in the picture below.

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With careful observation and care for feeding, my bees continued to thrive in their new home. Within 5 months I was enjoying the benefits of beekeeping.

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The addition of the honeybees proved to be a wonderful asset to the success of my organic garden, fruit trees and flowers— an extra bonus when pollinators live at your house.

The honey produced by my bees was a beautiful amber color and was harvested in the month of August. There is nothing like the taste of raw honey. Nothing. It’s fantastic! If you’ve never tried it, you should!  And honeybees are the only thing on the whole planet that make it.

In addition to the honey harvest, I used some of the beeswax to make candles and lip balm.

All things considered, beekeeping is a fascinating and interesting hobby, and one I continue to enjoy. Honeybees are crucial to our food supply; one in three bites of fruits and vegetables you eat is pollinated by bees. Without them there would be no food.

The beekeeping movement is very popular with new beekeepers appearing in urban areas, and hives being kept on city rooftops. In addition, the beekeeping industry is a 20 billion dollar/per year business. Consider, too, that bees work for free and they never sleep. That’s not too bad for an insect, and we’re very lucky to have them. 🐝 Buzz-z-z-z-z

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Author: naturebynicoleblog

Nicole Reggia is a master naturalist in Pennsylvania and the director of a teaching website on animal behavior, conservation and evolution.

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