When we move out to Tanglefoot Farm I plan to start an apiary, for many reasons. First, I want to help the bees. Bees are important; no bees, no humans. Secondly, I want pollinators to help me grow food on the farm. While some plants can grow without bees, all plants have higher yields if there are bees around. Finally, I hope to generate a revenue from the farm, and honey will be an important part of achieving that goal. Step one to keeping bees is to take a beekeeping class.
What I knew about bees could fit in a thimble. Until today. I signed up for a beekeeping class with Queen Bri’s Honey in Oklahoma City. Ya’ll. This lady knows her stuff. We learned so much today that my brain is about to pop. And the class isn’t over! We have another five hour session tomorrow.
If you don’t live in Oklahoma, no worries. She has an online course, too! Tonya used some of that content in the class today, and it’s good stuff. And the class is so reasonable; $60! I’ve taken courses on other subjects recently, and none of them were priced in double digits. They have a passion for beekeeping, and they want to share what they know. Clearly, this is not motivated by profit.
What I learned
- Humans have been collecting honey for a long time, but didn’t start domesticating bees until the Middle ages.
- Honey is still used as barter currency in the world today
- Bees only live about a month and a half. So you will see generations of bees throughout the spring and summer. (who knew?)
- When winter comes, all the guys (drones) get kicked out of the hive, because they serve no useful purpose. Bees don’t tolerate slackers. ( I find this hilarious, btw)
- All worker bees are females, and have several jobs in their lifetimes; housekeeper, nurse, baby bee caretaker, climate control technician, food collector and producer, and security guard. Sound familiar?
- Bees must travel about 55,000 miles to visit 2 million flowers to make a pound of honey. In it’s lifetime a bee will produce about 1/2 tsp of honey. The hive can produce about 50 pounds a year.
- Healthy hives will have 50-80,000 bees. That’s a hella lot of bees.
- Bees fly as far as five miles to find pollen and nectar, but usually stay within three miles of the hive.
- Bees will kill a weak queen and raise another. Like I said; no slackers.
- Bees are over-the-top OCD about a clean hive, and over-the-top about caring for the brood. Nurse bees check on the brood (larvae and pupae) about 1300 times a day, which is roughly once a minute.
- Bees communicate by dancing. We watched a video of a waggle dance; it’s pretty impressive. And it’s unfailing accurate. Very cool!
- Bees are not set ’em and forget ’em. They have natural enemies & diseases, and fare far better if they are tended. Bees need beekeepers.
- Bees swarm in the spring when the hive has too many bees. If you learn how to catch them, you get free bees! (this is awesome!)
- I learned how to set up a hive, feed new bees, and what equipment I needed.
- Introducing a new queen to a queenless hive is quite a process.
- I learned how to light a bee smoker. Smoke keeps bees calm when you are messing with their hive.
- Upset bees smell like bananas. When they are raising babies, they smell like yeast, and the Queen puts out a pheromone that smells like Lemon Balm. Fragrant little suckers.
Bees in Permaculture
Bees are central players in Permaculture, which is also something I am learning about. The first tenet of Permaculture is care for the earth. When we care for bees, we are in fact, caring for the earth. Bees also serve more than one purpose, which is also an important concept in Permaculture. They provide pollination, and they also provide a superfood-honey-that never ever expires or “goes bad.” And they are amazing creatures to watch.
Bees are just about the niftiest little things on the planet. I’m so excited to start an apiary!