5 Reasons to Start Keeping Bees


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Beneficial Weeds


A new look at weeds
A weed is a weed is a weed. Except when it is a useful tool around the Farm. We look at weeds differently now that we are living in the country and striving to be more sustainable.

Weeds as food
Certain weeds with attractive flowers are visited by bees collecting nectar. They also collect the pollen. Some people will tell you the honey made from classic allergen weeds such as ragweed and goldenrod helps reduce allergy symptoms. We have sold some honey to individuals using it specifically for this purpose. (Disclaimer: we are not purporting that our honey is an allergy treatment.) There was a time that we would have tried to eradicate all ragweed and goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace and others to allow for more purposeful plants. Now we encourage these to be part of the landscape.

The same is true for some of the invasive shrubs. We do work to keep these under control but the wild olive, wild cherry and false honeysuckle are also beneficial to the bees.

Plants as decoys
We have learned through experience and observation that Japanese beetles prefer some weeds, e.g. pigweed to the vegetable plants. We reduce the weed level in the garden but do not eliminate entirely. This balance helps both the garden and the gardener. Chemicals are not needed to control Japanese beetles when they have a weed to eat.

40,000 Angry Bees

Ever wonder what it’s like to have 40,000 stinger equipped insects upset with you?

Visitors to the Farm have many questions about the honeybees. One of the first is usually “Do you have one of those suits?” The answer is “yes”. We both have a full suit that has an integrated hat and veil. Wrists and ankles are sealed with elastic, long gloves fit securely over the sleeves and also have elastic closures, so there are no entrances for the bees. It feels very secure which is important when 40,000 bees are determined to defend their happy home against the human intruders.


Our interest in keeping honeybees is two-fold. The products from the hive, such as honey and wax are very important, but so is their pollination capacity. The fruit trees and berries, garden plants and flowers are producing better than ever this year. We give the bees credit. Unfortunately the honeybee population is declining due to a variety of environmental factors including increasing use of pesticides. That alone should cause a cloud of bees to be after the humans with stingers at the ready.

The apiary on Five Feline Farm started with two colonies in 2012. One of these colonies swarmed late in the year and did not have the numbers to maintain through the winter. The relatively mild winter was also hard on bees. They required more pollen and honey stores then broke their winter cluster early. Even feeding winter patties was not enough for the weaker hive so the spring found us down to one colony. We have heard of experienced beekeepers losing 50-75% of their colonies. Since we are new at beekeeping this was oddly encouraging news. It was not our fault.

The remaining hive is very strong with good numbers of bees. Even though we added a super for honey production, this hive showed signs of crowding and an imminent swarm. Clusters of bees were hanging on the outside of the hive in increasing numbers so we determined it was time for a split. Moving a selection of frames with brood, honey and pollen into another box gives the existing colony more space interrupting the swarm impulse. The bees on the removed frames start a new colony and raise up a new queen. This approach is called a “poor man’s split”.


This is where the irritation for the bees started. Poor man or poor woman, the bees do not take kindly to the disruption of their habitat. Bees poured out of the hive targeting our heads slamming into our hats and veils. Hundreds of bees crawled over us and on the ground looking for an opening to exact their revenge. The secure suits protected us and no stingers found a mark this time.

40,000 angry bees settled back into their homes returning to their work making honey.


Would you feel safe from the bees in a protective suit?

All the Buzz

Last week we attended Bee School sponsored by the Crossroads Beekeepers out of Effingham. There were several displays and vendors in addition to an excellent workshop format. We attended the section on Managing the Established Hive and found out we are doing many things right. We got some good ideas about things to do in the future. Kudos to Crossroads Beekeepers for an informative day.

Both of our hives are doing quite well. The clusters are in the top box of the hive. We added winter patties ordered through Dadant and a spacer that gives the bees room to feed on these patties.



We continue to study how to improve the products from the hives. Potential exists for more honey, cut comb and establishing more hives.

As Spring approaches there will be more activity on the Farm. Early garden plant starts continue to thrive in the basement grow station. The greenhouse window has been repaired. An addtional martin house has been assembled. We are ready for spring and the chance to be outside more.

Leave a comment about your preparations for Spring.