Hundreds of thousands of people across the United States are beekeepers, yet we seem to know very little about this activity. To understand the pursuit and enjoyment of beekeeping, we first need to learn the basics of honeybees.
Most of us think of getting stung when we think of honeybees and because of that, many people are afraid of them. We seem to lump all insects that buzz and sting into one group and this is wrong. Honeybees only sting when they or their home is being threatened. The drone or male honeybee cannot sting at all and the queen bee rarely stings. On occasion, the worker bee will sting if she feels the entrance into her hive is being threatened.
Honeybees are social insects and they band together and divide labor. The honeybee colony is made up of three types of bees each having their own duties and functions. The population of a colony ranges from 7,000 in the winter to over 70,000 in late summer and consists of one queen who’s function is to lay thousands of eggs, hundreds of drones for mating, and thousands of workers.
As we probably remember learning in school, the worker honeybee is the laborer of the colony. They gather all of the nectar and pollen, feed young larvae, protect the eggs, larve, and pupae, supply the water, secrete beeswax, and build comb. What our science teacher might have not shared is that during the summer months, worker honeybees travel about 55,000 miles to gather enough nectar to produce one pound of honey. Each individual worker bee will only produce about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey and 1/80 of a teaspoon of beeswax. But an entire colony will produce up to 200 pounds of honey each year.
Most flowers produce a sweet liquid to attract insects, primarily honeybees, so that pollination can take place assuring the survival of that plant species. While some honeybees collect nectar to make honey and some collect pollen, it is those that collect pollen who are the most important to us. According to Fred Rossman of Rossman Apiaries, if honeybees ceased to exist, about 1/3 of all foods we eat would disappear because of there would be a lack of pollination which allows all flowering crops to reproduce. This is why many people keep bees on their farms and near gardens. Mr Rossman says that over the last several years there has been a decline in the honeybee population and no one seems to know why. This has caused great concern within the agricultural community.
Beekeeping is a relatively inexpensive and easy hobby to get into and according to Mr. Rossman, “whether it is in your own backyard, apartment rooftop, small town garden or farm, beekeeping can fit in anywhere.”
Part two of our Beekeeping series will highlight what supplies and equipment you will need for your apiary (your bee yard) and a glossary of terms that will help you get started in this fascinating hobby.