Eco-Saturday: Beekeeping

Hive inspection.

Assuming you don’t have anaphylactic allergies, beekeeping is pretty much the greatest hobby ever. Given the role of honeybees in the ecosystem, it’s also one of the best things you can do for the environment.

Rescuing a swarm. And baby-talking them, because OMGfuzzybees!

We started keeping bees when we lived in Belleville, Ill. I was having trouble finding cut comb to use as a treatment for hay fever, and I liked the idea of having pollinators living in my garden, so Ron’s parents gave us some old beekeeping equipment, and we ordered our first package of bees.

Mites killed them before the season was out. That could have been the end of the story, but then I interviewed a pair of beeks in Tulsa a couple of years later, and the next thing I knew, I was giving my credit card a workout on the Dadant website.

The first time I went out to inspect a hive myself, I was terrified, but I sucked it up, suited up and opened the cover.

(More after the jump, along with umpteen photos that will terrify my friend Marilyn if I post them without warning.)

The queen is marked with a red dot for easy identification.

Inexplicably, every muscle in my body relaxed as a cloud of bees swirled around me, and in that instant, I fell hopelessly and irreversibly in love with Apis mellifera.

Look at their little fuzzy collars! Squeeeee!

Beekeeping isn’t difficult. Getting started is a little expensive — the basic equipment, including a good suit, will set you back $250 to $300, and you can plan on spending another $85 to $130 for the bees themselves — but it’s cheaper than therapy, more interesting than anything on cable, and if you do it long enough, you’ll eventually sell enough honey to recoup your investment. Probably. Maybe. (Or maybe not … but at least my bees make honey, which is more than I can say for the cat. He just makes messes.)

The brown-capped cells contain baby bees.

The hardest part is resisting the temptation to open the hive every couple of days just to see what the bees are doing. If you’re doing routine inspections more than twice a month, you’re probably overdoing it.

Bees basically twerk to let each other know they’ve found a place they consider home.

Rather than give you a full breakdown of everything I know about beekeeping, I will refer you to the learning center on the Dadant website. The Dadant family has been in the beekeeping business for six generations, and I’d trust their advice. We don’t buy all our equipment from them, but they’re a great starting point for beginners.

Here’s a video I made one summer when we were harvesting honey:

And here’s a video of us catching a swarm a few years ago in Tulsa:

I love my bees. Sometimes they do weird stuff (this afternoon, a new colony swarmed, settled on a nearby branch, and then returned to the hive in the span of 10 minutes), and sometimes they sting (though never without provocation, and usually as the result of a stupid mistake on my part), but they’re so fascinating and produce such wonderful honey that they are worth every single bit of hassle.

If you’re thinking about starting your own hive and have questions about our experiences with beekeeping, feel free to leave me a comment. (Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately, but I’ll try to get to them as quickly as possible.)


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