There are few things in this world of which I can say I am truly terrified. I am, however, a firm believer in the theory that traumatic situations with certain objects and/or animals can change a person's perspective of said objects/animals for life.
When I was three years old, my mother and I were attacked by a disrupted nest of mud daubers — a type of wasp that lives in the west. I was stung multiple times on my body; several times on my tongue and the inside of my mouth, in particular. I can still recall details of the event vividly.
Ever since that time, I have been *ahem* not-so-keen on the idea of being near a population of stinging “things” in general. I have been known to initiate a full sprint and a scream that would shame any female at the sight of flying, stinging insects — even when I try my best to keep my composure.
In 2006, all that changed. Not overnight, mind you, but that's when the process began. My mama, who is always up for a good adventure, decided it was her time to care for a hive of honeybees. She researched, talked with veteran beekeepers, took a class, and ordered all of her beekeeping goodies. When the bees arrived, I helped my parents by taking pictures as they spread their wings and deposited their bees into the hives for the first time.
After the bees were settled, I was asked by my mom to help her work the hives while my papa worked out of town. It took every ounce of self-control I possessed to suppress my fight or flight mode, but after awhile I began to feel comfortable around “the girls”. (If you're new to bees: the queen and all worker bees are ladies. Male bees, called “drones” are only present during the summer.)
My sweet mama and papa, getting ready to fill their first hives!
Even more recently, my husband and I have started playing with the idea of keeping our own hives. We have 12 acres, a large garden, and over a dozen fruit trees that will benefit from a healthy honeybee population. Not to mention we have three sons already with plans for more children. And a TON of peanut butter and honey sandwiches are consumed in this house every year. We also use honey as a sweetening alternative, and so being able to extract our own would be grand!
As we started holding conversations about whether or not to take the plunge, we had a set of questions we kept asking ourselves to determine whether or not this would be a good idea. Without further ado…
10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Keeping Honeybees
1. Do you have any allergies?
Now, before you cross keeping hives completely off your list due to answering this question in the affirmative, let me say the following: my husband is allergic to honeybees. Not wasps, not hornets. Honeybees only. We have discussed this at length, and here are our feelings…
We have decided to take necessary precautions and keep bees anyway. He will be keeping an epipen on his person, we will have our hives situated in such a way that their flight path will not be near the house, and my husband will not be working the hives with me. I will make my mama return that favor and we will do a hive-care swap. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. 🙂 He still comes in contact with honeybees on a regular basis without having our own hives, so we feel pretty confident we can minimize the risk of him getting stung without upping the likelihood of it happening already.
If you live in close quarters with neighbors, be mindful of their situation. If the family living next door has a child with a severe bee sting allergy, be courteous and open the lines of communication about your beekeeping endeavors. You may be justified by the law in keeping bees regardless of their concerns, but there are plenty of things in this world that are wrong, though lawful they may be.
2. Do you have the time?
Bees are relatively light-maintenance animals, to be sure. But they *do* take some time. In the book Backyard Beekeeper, author Kim Flottum says you can expect caring for bees to take more time than to properly care for a cat, but less time than to properly care for a dog. The general rule of thumb is 30 minutes per hive per week, and 2 hours (per hive) two times a year to extract honey.
3. Are you going to use the honey?
There are many reasons to keep bees. They help pollinate vegetable plants, fruit trees and vines, flowers, and herbs. Beeswax can be used in homemade toiletries and beauty products. However, most people keep hives for the liquid gold. Honey will be your most tangible reward for putting in the time and money to get your hives thriving. If you don't like or will not use honey, stamp collecting may be a better hobby.
4. Is the future hive site near pesticide use?
Many farmers today use pesticides to protect their crops from destructive insects. Unless you are fortunate enough to be surrounded by farmers using organic growing methods, you need to be aware of the chemicals used in the fields nearby. If you live in a rural area near crop fields, try keeping hives at least one mile away from pesticide usage. This will significantly reduce bee deaths. Three miles is even better. However, even hives that are a mere quarter mile away from such fields will have a reduced risk of coming in contact with harmful pesticides.
5. Can you provide water?
Honey bees must be able to collect water — especially during the spring when they are gearing up for the working season and during the heat of summer's peak. Especially if you are a suburban beekeeper, providing water for your bees is essential. Suburban beekeepers have a special duty to be mindful of their close neighbors. If your hives are not provided with an adequate water source, they will go elsewhere (your neighbors pool or bird bath, for example) to find it. Keep your bees from overwhelming your neighbors by providing a desirable water source. Bees like well-aged water. Natural creeks and streams are ideal, but if you do not have such, try a water garden in a half whiskey barrel. Fill it with floating plants and voila — bee drink heaven. Not the creative type? Try these plans from Country Living magazine for a simple water garden.
6. Is your climate conducive to keeping bees?
For nearly every climate in the world, there is a honeybee species which can live within it. The only continent in the world where you will not find honeybees is Antarctica. You may need to take precautions to protect your hives from the elements during severe weather, but rest assured honeybees can and will live in your climate. Unless, of course, we have readers in Antarctica. 😉
7. Will you need to protect your hives from predators?
A beekeeper in Alaska has to worry about bears. In Africa, beekeepers worry about honey badgers. Here in Oregon, we worry about raccoons and skunks. You will most likely have some kind of predator in your area, but with a little research and some predator-protection on your part, your bees can be safe.
8. Do you have the money and/or skills to invest in the proper equipment?
Getting started with bees does not have to cost a fortune. Just like with other animal projects, start up costs vary. Check out this estimated cost breakdown for getting started with new, purchased equipment and hives. Or if you're the DIY type, take a look at these plans to make a beehive out of upside down mason jars. No joke.
9. Do you know what kind of system you'd like to use?
Before you buy your bees, you need to know what kind of system you'd like to use. I have seen hives made from 55-gallon drums, recycled laundry detergent containers, mason jars, and old trees. Or you can go a more conventional route and purchase wood or plastic hive boxes called “supers” and place them in your yard. You can offer plastic comb as a starting structure, or give your bees the opportunity to create their own natural comb. There are plenty of options and each one is going to be tailored to different opinions. Again, research, research, research.
10. Is beekeeping something you will enjoy?
Henry David Thoreau said, “The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.” I do believe it is something that, if given the chance, will make a place in your heart and stay there.
If you want to help bees, but do not feel inclined to care for them in such an intimate fashion, you have other options! Make something green. Plant a garden. Nourish a tree. Or let your lawn grow a little longer than normal. 😉 Create an environment around your home which will welcome bees to your neck of the woods. If you truly feel like this may be your calling, find a fellow beekeeper and help them for awhile. Get a taste of the art, and then get started on your own!
For a Chuckle…
Check out this “You Know You're a Beekeeper When…” list.
What's the Buzz? If you had homegrown honey, what would you make first?
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