I would venture to say that most people have a hobby or two…something that you enjoy when you’re not working…right??
Well, one of my neighbors, Steve, decided to take up a different kind of hobby….bee-keeping….quite by accident, about 20 years ago. It all started with a swarm of bees at the golf course he owns. Nobody wanted to go near it, but the branch it was on was near a wash rack that they needed to clean off their equipment at the end of the day. Steve and one of his employees put a big cardboard box under the branch where the hive was, cut the branch and the ball of bees dropped into the box. The bees were very quiet. They sealed it up, cut a little triangular hole so the bees could go in and out and put it in the corner of the maintenance yard. A few months went by and one of the workers told him he needed to come and see it. The box was bursting and he realized it was filled with honey. He eventually got a wooden bee box and the rest, as they say, is history.
What started as a curiosity has turned into seven colonies, which, he says, is a fairly small number for a bee keeper. So, about a month ago a few of us were out chatting in the neighborhood and he was in his garage getting ready to “harvest” some of the honey. I had to see what it was all about and ask a bunch of questions. Here are some pics of the process…
First they collect the honeycombs, sliding them out of the hive (with Maggie, Steve’s wife)
Then they scrape them with a “hot knife” to strip the wax and expose the honey.
….and then he spins them in a machine that sucks the honey from the hives & then transfers it to a bucket.
…then it’s time to bottle the delicious bee creation…
….slave labor….mom and sister
Here’s some fascinating information that Steve shared with me about bee keeping….
- They only harvest honey twice a year, once after winter and then early to mid-summer. You don’t harvest in winter because the bees use the honey as food until plants start to flower in the Spring.
- After harvesting, most of the wax honey comb remains in the frames. They reinstall those frames in the hives, so the bees can start refilling the honey comb with honey instead of having to make all the new honey comb.
- Honey lasts forever and never spoils. It has even been found in Egyptian tombs.
- Eating local honey helps with allergies.
- Burning candles made of bees wax purifies the air.
- Bee stings have been used to treat joint pain similar to a cortisone shot and has also been used to help treat the symptoms of MS and arthritis.
- Bees create a new queen by selecting a bee larva and feeding it royal jelly.
- After a queen bee is born it takes a mating flight and drone (male) bees fly after her and impregnate her. She will take other mating flights throughout her young life.
- If a hive gets too big, they will create another queen and split off to form a new colony.
- When you see a ball or swarm of bees, like the original one Steve and his employees found, they are usually just resting and protecting their new queen until they find a new home. Scout bees fly out and find potential new homes. They fly back to the hive, do a little waggle dance and tell all the bees about the new home and then it’s “follow me!!” to the new hive location.
- Bees communicate by pheromones and dancing. The waggle dance tells the quality of location, distance and direction of the potential new home.
So what’s it like inside the honey bee hive??
- There are 20-60 thousand bees in an active hice
- Worker bees live 4-7 weeks
- Drone bees live until they mate…they are then pushed out of the hive before the winter to conserve food (HARSH!)
- Queen bees live 3-5 years
- The bee larva is called a brood
- A hive contains one queen, a few hundred drones and lots of worker bees. The queen tells the worker bees what they need to do. Besides foraging, they also sound alarms when the hive is in danger and they protect the entrance of the hive from instruders.
Not only does Steve harvest the delicious honey (not like any you’ve tasted from the store), but he and his wife, Maggie, harvest the wax caps that have been scraped away from the comb to release the honey and make candles, body bars and lip balms. They’ve even made medicinal salves and lotions.
….and that’s your education in backyard bee-keeping! As I said, fascinating!!