Gardening Articles: Health :: Garden Crafts

Keeping Honeybees

by Marla Spivak

Pie-crust color and few skipped cells are evidence of a healthy honey-filled comb.

Assuming you have an interest in plants and nature -- and an absence of bee phobia -- you may have already considered adding hives for honeybees to your garden. But the prospect can be a little daunting.

If you've never considered the possibility of raising bees, think of all the garden crops that rely upon pollination. Even accounting for native bee pollinators, honeybees still do most of the pollinating of fruits and vegetables in your garden. If you've ever suffered poor fruit sets of apples, cherries, cucumbers, melons, or strawberries, the reason might be too few honeybees. And then, of course, the honey you will harvest is your reward for keeping your garden pollinated and your bees healthy.

Small-scale beekeeping is very doable. But before you plunge too deep, a few preliminaries need to be covered. If you're in an urban or suburban environment, check with your neighbors to see if they have bee sting allergies. Some people have severe, even deadly, reactions to bee stings.

The other necessity is more bureaucratic: registration and fees. Some states and municipalities have them, and some don't. Where fees exist, they are nominal. For details, contact your state apiarist through your nearest agricultural extension office.

By far the most efficient way to deal with local rules -- not to mention the nuances of beekeeping -- is by connecting with other, more experienced beekeepers. Virtually every state has a local association whose members enjoy sharing information. The best place to find them is at the Web site maintained by A.I. Root Co., publishers of Bee Culture Magazine:

The next consideration is finding an appropriate site for the hives. Look for a sunny, east-facing location so the bees will receive early light and warmth to stimulate foraging. Avoid low spots that might flood, as well as high, exposed, or windy locations. Avoid collisions with people and animals by placing the beehive away from walkways. A good place is near shrubbery or a fence where the foraging bees have to fly up first before flying through your yard. Another good site is a flat roof with some shade.

Inside a Beehive

Inside a Beehive
Comb foundation is made of beeswax, or a combination of plastic and beeswax.

The most basic hive consists of eight parts or layers. I'll review them from the bottom up. A hive stand keeps the hive off the ground; a bottom board provides a floor for the hive; an entrance reducer excludes mice in winter; a brood chamber (also called deep super or brood nest) holds the comb frames where the queen lives and lays eggs; a queen excluder prevents the queen from moving up into smaller boxes and laying eggs there; a super (or honey super) iswhere worker bees store surplus honey; and at the top there is an inner cover and an outer cover.

Inside the brood nest and each super box are 9 or 10 frames for comb-containing foundation, thin sheets of beeswax or plastic that are imprinted with a honeycomb pattern. Foundation helps the bees draw out straight combs within the wooden frames and allows you, the beekeeper, to remove the frames for inspection and to extract the honey from the combs without damaging them. Altogether, the hive and contents cost about $100.

Depending on your locality and flowering season, most beekeepers expand hive capacity by doubling both the brood nest and supers. Additional supers may be needed for honey storage.

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