Three Fabulous Reasons to Keep Honeybees

There are some very good reasons to host honeybees on your property. Then there are some FABULOUS reasons. Read on to find out why Five Feline Farm started in the honeybee business.

Honey of course. There is only one way to get real honey. From honeybees.

Whether you want honey just for personal use or to sell surplus, the only place to get honey is from honeybees.The worker bees spend the majority of their short lives gathering nectar and pollen from flowers. The nectar is returned to the hive, passed off to a sister bee and mixed with enzymes. This enriched nectar is placed in a cell, combined with the deposits of many other worker bees then fanned to dehydrate into honey. Once the honey has reached the perfect moisture content, the cell is capped off and the process begins again in the next cell. Naturally this doesn’t happen one cell at a time but hundreds of cells at a time by tens of thousands of bees.

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2. Pollination. As the bees move from flower to flower they transfer pollen.

This is almost a side effect of the nectar gathering process. Honeybees have sticky hairs on their bodies that capture pollen granules when they visit flowers. As they move to the next flower and land, a bit of pollen falls off and pollinates that flower. Some crops such as almonds are totally dependent on the honeybee for pollination.

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Although some of the pollen collection is accidental, there is also some intentional pollen harvesting. Pollen is a protein. It is mixed with honey and enzymes to create the “bee bread” fed to young larvae.

Here on the Farm, we have noticed improved production in the gardens after adding colonies of honeybees.

3. Fun. Honeybees are fascinating to watch.

We placed a bench just a few yards from the hives and off to the side. This creates an excellent place to sit in the evening to watch the bees come in with the fruits of their labor. Close observation reveals varying hues of pollen in the little pollen baskets on the worker’s back legs.

Trying to watch a single bee come out of the hive, take off from the entrance, circle once or twice and head out to the current nectar flow is amazing. I rarely use that word because it is so overused, but sometimes there is simply no other way to describe something. This is one of those times.

Do you agree with these FABULOUS reasons? Do you want to start keeping honeybees? If you do, start here to learn about some of the parts of the hive.

What To Do If You Get Stung

Yes, it does seem unlikely that you will be stung in the winter months. But it can happen as you take advantage of a warm day to quickly check the hive and add a candy board. Whether winter or summer, make sure that you are prepared in the event of a sting.

Go to the bee yard with a plan. Keep something in your tool kit that will remove a stinger from skin. Ideally, this will be an object similar in size to a credit card. Perhaps an old rewards card is lurking about your wallet and can be converted for this use. A tube of antihistamine gel will also offer quick relief. You can add additional treatment as needed when you get back to the house.

If something does go awry and you get stung, don’t panic. This will alarm the other bees and you may end up being stung more than once. Walk slowly away from the hive and remove the the stinger. Your goal is to scrape the stinger out against the direction of the sting. When the bee leaves her stinger in you, there is a small bulb of venom at the end of the stinger. Place the edge of the card (in a pinch you could use the edge of your hive tool) between the venom bulb and the insertion point of the stinger. Scrape toward the bulb end of the stinger with a firm flick of the card. This should remove the stinger from your skin and stop the flow of venom. It is beneficial to do this as quickly as possible after being stung.

It is good to know if you are truly allergic to honey bee stings or merely have an allergic reaction. What’s the difference?

An allergic reaction will cause localized swelling, warmth and itching around the sting. This will last 2 or 3 days and cause relatively minor discomfort. Reactions of this nature can be treated with home remedies.

A true allergic reaction is quite a different matter. This type of immediate systemic reaction will cause a person’s airway to swell and impede the ability to breathe. Anyone who has this type of reaction to a bee sting must carry an Epi-pen (a portable means of injecting epinephrine in an emergency) and use it immediately after a sting. This is a serious medical emergency and should be treated in an emergency room even after the use of an Epi-pen.

Let’s say you are in the majority and only have a localized reaction to honeybee venom. You have removed the stinger. Now what?

Gain some immediate relief with topical antihistamines and ice. You can also take a systemic antihistamine such as Benadryl if necessary. Recently we have discovered that smearing a bit of honey over the area then covering with a bit of gauze is soothing. Honey has antiseptic properties and seems to reduce the itch.

Remember honeybees will rarely sting while foraging away from the hive. They are focused on gathering pollen and nectar with no concern about much else. Foraging bees are not in a position to defend the hive or the queen. Unless aggravated, squeezed or stepped on, they are not likely to sting.

For more ways to avoid being stung in the first place, check out this link: How To Not Get Stung

And if you haven’t already, sign up for our email list and get your free copy of Wisdom of the Bees.

30,000 Bees and Counting

Three new colonies of bees have taken up residence at Five Feline Farm to replace winter losses. Two packages were picked up at Long Lane Honeybee Farm in rural Fairmount, IL. The third package was shipped by U.S. Mail from Gardner Apiary in Georgia. Each package contains about three pounds of bees, a queen in a separate cage and a can of food. The two packages from Long Lane were shipped in a new style of package called a “bee bus”. The package from Georgia arrived in a standard wood and screen box.

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It is always exciting to pick up new honeybees. During shipment or what is essentially an artificial swarm the bees are quite docile. They are not protecting brood or a hive and seem a bit confused. Mostly they just stay together, clinging around the queen cage and waiting to see what happens.

So two packages rode home in the backseat of the car. A few bees clung on the outside of the cages, but none ventured into the front of the car. Someone suggested it is a great anti-theft deterrent to have 20,000 honeybees inside the car.

Bees were really buzzing around at the distribution site. It is amazing how comfortable we each have become around the bees. While standing in line to pick up the packages, bees flew all around and landed on us, but never stung. We still have a healthy caution and utilize protective clothing while working in the hives. It is all about knowing how to interact with honeybees and respect their natural instincts.

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Once home, the packages were sprayed with a bit of sugar water to reduce flying. Once in the bee yard, the bees were quickly installed into their new homes. We will continue to feed sugar syrup for a few weeks until the bees can establish their new home and build comb on the foundation supplied. After this sugary sweet start, the bees will start supporting themselves with the nectar and pollen available on Five Feline Farm.

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Check out the installation video in the previous post.

5 Reasons to Start Keeping Bees

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You can ask any beekeeper why they started keeping bees and each will have a story to tell. Below are our top five reasons for beginning an apiary in order of importance.

Honey

We are interested in eating local food as much as possible. Since there is nothing more local than your own backyard, keeping bees is a good way to ensure a good supply of local honey. Two hives produce more than enough honey for personal use plus extra to share or sell. The majority of the honey we use is liquid but we are starting to experiment with creamed honey and comb honey. More information about those products in a future blog post.

Fun

Honeybees are fascinating to watch. They are active from sunrise to sunset, coming and going from the hive. If you stand about 15 feet from the hive just slightly off to the side you can get a good view of the hive entrance. Standing directly in front of the hive entrance is ill-advised. This blocks the way and interrupts their flight pattern. Bees will buzz around our heads as warning when we are in the way. While watching the hives, it is fun to pick out an individual bee and follow her as she lifts off, flies a circular pattern above the hive then wings her way to gather nectar. At the same time, other bees are coming in for a landing to unload their nectar or pollen. Careful observation reveals orange, yellow or white pollen on the bee’s hind legs.

Inside the hive, each of the workers has a different task. As they move through their lifespan, worker bees take on different jobs. Some feed the young bees, some care for the queen, others clean out cells. The foragers collect nectar and pollen, then bees working inside the hive fan the nectar to reduce the water content until it becomes honey. An exciting moments recently was spotting the queen. The queen is elusive as she is busy laying eggs and there is only one queen in thousands of worker bees.

Pollination

Honeybees are critical plant pollinators. Some estimates place the honeybee as the primary pollinator for at least 60% of food crops. Almonds are one crop that is solely pollinated by honeybees. Bees will fly up to three miles to collect nectar and pollen but the more distance involved the less any one bee can collect. By keeping healthy colonies on the property, we can ensure our flowers and vegetables have good pollination. This encourages better production.

In mid-August, Echinacea, thyme, basil, oregano and cucumbers are in bloom at Five Feline Farm. Forager bees flit from flower to flower without a care for the human hand reaching in to pick something for the supper table.

Preservation

The honeybee population has been declining over recent years for a variety of reasons, some known, some unknown. Theories for this decline include increased use of pesticides and genetically modified seeds. Loss of habitat is another potential reason as land is converted to housing or large mono-crop farmland. Colony Collapse Disorder, the sudden death of an entire colony of bees without explanation is also being explored to identify cause. Although we can not determine the cause of honeybee decline, with responsible management, we can help increase the population of bees.

Income

There is an initial investment in keeping bees; however there is also income potential. The sale of strained liquid honey provides the majority of income from keeping bees. One colony of bees can produce 50 to 100 pounds of honey per year depending on nectar flow and the health of the colony. Fifty pounds of honey equals about 44 of those cute little bear containers.

Other products from the hive include honey comb, wax, propolis and pollen. Creamed honey, essentially a controlled crystallization process that makes the honey semi-solid and spreadable. These products may have a niche market that can be lucrative; however our intent is to focus on liquid honey and a bit of comb honey.