“It appears that perhaps one-third of our total diet is dependent, directly or indirectly, upon insect-pollinated plants.” – S.E. McGregor (source PDF)
I’m not an economist, agriculturist, environmentalist or any other “ist” that would elevate me as an expert capable of laying out an argument about the importance of bees (and other insect pollinators) to our food supply and culture in general. I’m just a guy trying to understand where my food comes from and attempt to grow it, raise it or cultivate it as best I can, but all sources seem to be in agreement that our pollinating-insect friends contribute a lot to the environment in general and more importantly to us, our food supply.
Consider if you will a world without bees. No flowers would get pollinated, which is the beginning of the end for almost all flowers (some are wind-pollinated, think dandelions). Without flowers you have no fruit, nuts and seeds, which is a large portion of our food supply. This is the direct effect. There are indirect effects that a more intelligent person can explain, but let me just pose the following question to make my point and we’ll move on. How large of an effect would eliminating 1/3 of our diet have on us as a people?
There is a real bee epidemic
It used to be that farmers who grew things reliant on pollination would just allow the local bees, and other insect pollinators to do their thing. Ever since the 1980s many farmers have had to rent bees in order to get their crops pollinated.
Where have the bees gone?
They call it “Colony Collapse Disorder”, and basically they don’t really know what is causing it, but most experts recognize it as a problem. There is one theory that I think make a lot of sense.
Pesticides: Farmers put these chemicals on their crops that are meant to kill the pests to that particular plant, but it doesn’t just get the bad bugs, it also kills the good ones too, including bees. Don’t think everyone else is off the hook, because we all have probably put chemicals on our lawns or flower gardens that are meant to kill the weeds or the bugs that would destroy things. Nobody can say for sure that this is the cause, but it is certainly suspect. The EPA has issued warnings regarding some pesticides that have been found to kill off bees (source).
I feel like this post has been a downer so far, so now on to the positive stuff!
Who can be a beekeeper?
Anybody…really anybody. Before we started our knowledge of beekeeping was right around zero, and it’s only slightly more than that now. We have a great county beekeeping association that has been a great resource to us. Find one near you and check out a meeting. Most of the people in our group are just regular folks. Some are very experienced and some are brand new to beekeeping.
But I live in a neighborhood or a big city.
Perfect! Then you are a great candidate for a fast growing group of people getting into Urban Beekeeping. Cities like Washington DC, New York and LA have established groups to help people get into beekeeping in the more densely packed areas of our country (Sources: http://honeylove.org, washingtonian.com
Beekeeping is Fun
We’ve only had our 3 hives for a couple of weeks, but I already get enjoyment from taking a walk by them and just watching from a couple yards or feet away. There is so much activity going on and I’m sure the more we get into it, the more we will find is going on.
Aren’t Bees Dangerous?
Most stings people get are not from honeybees. Wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, etc. are the biggest offenders here. A honeybee will die after stinging you, and they will only do so if they feel trapped or in danger some how. We have been stung already, but that was mainly because we weren’t dressed properly and were messing with the hives.
I have frequently visited the hives, standing just a few feet away and not been stung. They will occasionally land on your arm or head, but if you keep calm, they will fly away or you can brush them off with a gentle hand.
What is the equipment necessary?
You’ll want to get a starter kit, it makes it easy to not miss anything and know you have all you need to get going. Here is one for under $200. (Beekeeper Starter Kit). Here is a list of what that kit contains (when they say “some assembly required, they mean it…plan for a day to put yours together):
- 1 – standard beehive super (9 5/8″ deep x 16 1/4″ width x 19 7/8″ length)
- 1 – all purpose hive tool
- 1 – reversible entrance reducer
- 1 – bee smoker to calm bees
- 10 – 9 1/8 inch grooved top bar frames
- 1 – protective bee veil
- 10 – sheets plastic based foundation (Plasticell or Duragilt)
- 1 – sting resistant gloves
- 1 – entrance feeder
- 1 – book First Lessons in Beekeeping
- 1 – assembly instructions
- 1 – smoker fuel 1 lb.
- 1 – telescoping metal cover
- 1 – inner cover
- 1 – bottom board
We also recommend buying a copy of Beekeeping for Dummies (click here to see it on Amazon). This has been the biggest resource to us besides the beekeepers group. It has step by step instructions for everything.
If you’re interested in trying something new, I would recommend looking into beekeeping. It has been a lot of fun so far and we haven’t even seen any honey, which is sure to make it that much more rewarding.
If you do decide to start a hive, this video is one of the best we’ve seen on installing the bees into your hive. I’ve watched it a bunch of times and it was a great help when we did ours.