I must admit, I have not always been fond of bees – honey bees to be exact. My first experience with honey bees occurred when I was about seven years old. My father was taking my younger brother and me fishing. I was a little alarmed when I realized that we needed to walk past a dozen bee hives to reach our fishing destination. When I told my father that I was scared of the bees, he gently said, “Just don’t act scared – they won’t bother you.” Either my acting skills were terrible or the bees did not hear my father’s words…I was stung twice seconds later. I threw down my pole and stomped back to the car. I was done with fishing, done with the day, and done with bees.
Fast forward a decade or two or four. I am having lunch with a coworker and listening to him talk about his adventures as a new beekeeper. After months and months of his interesting stories as a beekeeper, I began to wonder if I could be a keeper of bees myself. At the very least, I wanted to know if the bees’ presence would really help increase my garden yields. I took a class on beekeeping and purchased enough equipment for two hives. On the day my two colonies of bees arrived for me to place into the hives, I was a bundle of nerves. I installed two boxes totaling 50,000 bees into the hives, and then my real life began.
My two colonies of bees not only did well establishing new homes for themselves, but they did very well preparing enough food stores to survive their first winter. I found myself many times that first year sitting for hours just watching the comings and goings of the bees while relaxing to the rhythms of their constant buzzing. I was simply in awe.
My fascination continued into the second year of beekeeping. It was such a surprise to realize the ladies had worked so hard collecting nectar, I was able to harvest 14 gallons of liquid gold that summer. What an experience to harvest, extract and bottle pure and natural honey from the hives. Now in bee class, I learned that honey contains protein, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and about 18 amino acids. Until I became a beekeeper I only used honey to compliment an occasional biscuit or two. I have enjoyed realizing the endless possible uses of this delicious natural sweetener. Honey is an excellent glaze for topping meats, nuts and vegetables. It gives such a perfect sweetness to breads and desserts. My dogs even love their pet treats made with honey. One day soon I plan to steal some honey meant for my kitchen and try my hand making honey soap and lotion. Honey is healthy, delicious and quite versatile.
Last year, my third year of beekeeping, I had another good honey harvest. I collected more beeswax from this harvest and really began to take more notice of my honey bees’ pollen collection. Beeswax is the natural capping bees place over a cell when enough moisture has been released from the honey. Once the caps are cut from the frames, the honey is then able to be extracted by spinning the frames. When the beeswax is cleaned and melted the excitement begins. I just love the candles I have made…they give off the slightest hint of a honey smell while actually helping purify the air as they burn. My lip balm and soap kits are on my work table ready for my first attempts at both. It is true beeswax will help strengthen a quilter’s thread and help open drawers, doors and windows with ease, but nothing beats the feel and smell of a beeswax lotion or other personal care product. To me it feels like pure luxury.
As I initially began to think about beekeeping, I wondered if having bee hives would help increase my garden fruit and vegetable yields. Well, it has helped. As a bonus, my neighbors have reported their gardens are doing very well too. There really is a difference between pollinated cucumbers that look healthy/green and those lacking proper pollination that look white/pale and never thrive. In the US, honey bees pollinate 50-80% of our fruit, vegetable and seed crops. Without them and their pollination skills, we would all have a very difficult time finding enough food to have a properly balanced meal for ourselves.
As the bees collect the pollen, they bring it back as two little pollen “baskets” on the outside of their back legs. It always looks to me like they are flying in from a trip with luggage or bags on each side. Many people use the natural pollen, which can be extracted with a special device, for many health benefits including allergies. I just admire the pollen rainbow the bees create in the frames as they collect from different sources and store these patchwork displays of color. It is always such a fun guessing game to place the color of pollen to the tree, bush or plant the bees are collecting from during each season.
I have learned so much and seen so many fascinating things as a keeper of bees. As I enter my fourth year of beekeeping, I do know one thing – we humans benefit a lot more from honey bees than they benefit from us. They produce so many extraordinary resources for each of us to use or consume. So it only makes sense that educating ourselves more about honey bees and what each of us can do to help protect them would be a noble deed indeed. I will place my honey bee flag on my porch to announce the coming of Spring and wear my honey bee jewelry to “represent” my busy ladies. I will also continue to share my wonderment, experience and growing knowledge of honey bees with anyone who might listen. I do believe it safe to say my childhood belief and proclamation that I was done with bees may have been ever so premature.
Posted: Monday, March 07, 2016