It is with great joy I bring you a guest post today (my first ever!). This comes from my brother, Kyle, who is both a tremendous writer (The Birds and the Bees) but also a bee-keeping hobbyist in Montana. I know many of my friends are interested in learning how they might be able to keep bees in their own backyards. To this end, Kyle is here this week to answer some questions -- and ignite the fires of inspiration! Enjoy! ~April
Bees in the City, Part 1: Are You Ready for a New Hobby?
Are you interested in getting more fruit and veggies from your garden this year?
Are you interested in the role pollinators play in our environment and food supply?
Do you like honey and love the idea of producing your own?
Have you heard of Colony Collapse Disorder and want to do something to help the plight of the honey bee?
In this rotten economy, maybe you’re simply looking for a hobby that can double as a home business...
No matter why you’re interested in beekeeping, one thing is for sure: you’re not alone. And as it turns out, that’s a very good thing.
Beekeeping is an adventure... and an education.
Crazy as it sounds, (at least at first) keeping bees in the urban environment is actually a better option than having bees in a strictly agricultural location.
For many farmers today the pressures to produce are so high they must rely on a wide array of chemicals to control the many pests that threaten their crops. Even farmers that market spray-free produce may be using crops that are genetically altered to kill pests on contact. While there are many chemicals at use in the urban environment as well, chances are they are not as highly concentrated. Also, large farms are monocultures meaning all the plants are the same age and species, and all bloom at the same time. This leaves the bees with nothing to eat except for that 2 -3 week window when a crop is blooming. In contrast, in the urban environment gardens and yards are blooming all season long, or possibly all year long depending on your climate. This gives the honey bees a vast array of blooms to harvest nectar from.
Since I first got started nearly two years ago, keeping honey bees has changed the way I look at many things from the food we eat, to the changing of the seasons, to chemical use and our local community.
Agriculture in the US today is nearly entirely dependent on the honey bee, which is not even a native species. It is said, one in every three bites of food on the average American’s dinner plate was made possible by the honey bee (and beekeepers).
The honey bee (Apis mellifera) originated in Europe and came to the Americas with the colonists along with many of the foods we commonly eat. There are something like 4000 native pollinators in the US also, but none produce honey. And while they do pollinate certain crops, they do not generally do so in enough numbers to support an agricultural operation.
While beekeeping was common on farms in the past, the shift away from family farms to corporate operations, and the population movement from rural to urban has led to a decrease in small scale beekeeping. Beekeeping, like farming shifted away from family based operations to large scale production based operations. However in recent years with the growing interest in eating locally and community based agriculture, many people are now becoming interested in beekeeping, and not just in rural areas. Urban beekeepers are becoming very active in our country and “Bees in the City” is a common topic for many town hall meetings and online discussion boards.
One of the great things about beekeeping is that it attracts people from all walks of life for any number of reasons.
In fact, the single best piece of advice I can give somebody interested in honey bees: meet a beekeeper and become friends. Join a beekeeping club, take a class, go to the farmer’s market and chat with a honey vendor. Having a beekeeping mentor will be invaluable if you decide that you want to take the plunge and get into honey bees.
Why is knowing a beekeeper so important? For several reasons: First off, honey bees are stinging insects. For many, being surrounded by tens of thousands of flying, buzzing insects with stingers is a very unhappy experience. No matter how much you may want to like honey bees, the only way to actually know if you can handle bees is to experience working a hive. Once you suit up and open a hive with the bees flying up and filling the air, chances are you’ll either love it or hate it. Either way you’ll know if you’re ready for the second fact of beekeeping: If you keep bees, you will get stung.
It’s a good idea to know if you are allergic before putting yourself this position. You’re new beekeeping buddy may not be happy if they have to take you to the hospital in the middle of a hive inspection. Let me take a moment to say that swelling, itching and discomfort around a sting are normal and not an emergency. For me stings are generally gone by the next day, but everybody reacts a little differently. Some people are extremely allergic to bee stings. Trouble breathing, light-headedness and extreme swelling are not to be taken lightly.
If you’re not uber-allergic and you don’t mind flying stinging insects, you’re ready to consider beekeeping. Tune in tomorrow for "4 Steps for Getting Started With Beekeeping."
Kyle Johnson and wife Whitney are professional Foresters in Northwest Montana. They are avid hunters and gatherers, with a big garden, 20 chickens, 3 honey bee hives, a handful of fruit trees and two dogs on their mini farm in a very small town. Life is good for Kyle and Whitney with lots going on everyday. On their blog: The Birds and the Bees they enjoy writing about all their adventures from hunting and butchering venison, to canning and preserving garden vegetables, to beekeeping and chicken farming, with a little responsible forestry thrown in on occasion. Take a moment and check it out!
Also, check out Whitney's hand made jewelry and all natural lip balms at her web site Montana Wild Designs. Whitney's feather earrings feature hand-died feathers collected from our chicken flock (with no harm to the chickens), and all of the lip balms are made from our own beeswax! Enjoy!