Apiculture, by Z.T.

I want you to think about the most expensive liquid per unit volume that you can. What different liquids came to mind? Gasoline or other petroleum based products? Sure. I am sure many of you thought of bottled water; as crazy it sounds, it is up there.

Still, no, that’s not the liquid I am thinking of, though all of those are certainly expensive. This liquid is sweet. It’s extremely useful.  It’s fairly hard to come by. It is commonly referred to as “liquid gold”. Have you figured it out? It’s honey.

Many of you are raising your eyebrows at that. When is the last time you went to the grocery store and bought the small honey bear-shaped bottle of honey? I know, most of the time we don’t even check the price of many of the products we throw into our shopping cart these days. The fact is that they are all expensive, but that small bottle you just bought sold for between $5 and $8. That’s right. Go check Amazon right now. Just type in “honey” and see what comes up. You will see that the price per ounce is between $.33-$.50 an ounce.

Assuming we use the typically cheapest retail sales unit, gallons, honeys costs $42.25 a gallon. How do you feel about gasoline and bottled water prices now? They don’t seem so bad, do they?

Now, it’s true that the average person doesn’t use much honey throughout the year, but is it because they don’t like it that much or that they just don’t buy that much because of the price?

Growing up, we ate honey every single day. Now, I was blessed to have been raised on a functioning farm that featured a set of tended bee hives. Now, we didn’t do the tending. We rented out the land that the beekeeper used in exchange for product. Because we usually had a steady supply of honey, we featured it regularly in our diet. We had it on toast every morning (and sometimes after other meals). It was used in BBQ sauces. My grandmother used it in salad dressings, which we ate usually twice a day. It was used in many dessert recipes as a sugar substitute. After all, why buy a bag of sugar when you have a renewable supply?

As time marched on, the beekeeper neglected the bees on our property. The supply dwindled and eventually disappeared. Having become used to the supply, my father set out to do something about it. He knew next to nothing about apiculture, but he knew the resources were out there. Indeed, there were. The Internet is a great resource, if you choose to believe it. Otherwise, there are a lot of books and printed literature on the subject. Dad subscribed to both and dove right in, ordering all the stuff he needed to get started. The first thing he had to do was rehabilitate the beehives and the colonies and get them healthy. He quickly discovered that it was mostly neglect that had caused the colonies to develop problems. The man-made hives were rotting and broken, which had led to disease and easy access for predators.

He used his carpentry skills to rebuild and replace the hives. He cared for the bees, and within the first few months he harvested his first bunch of honey.

The amazing thing was just how much money came out of these few hives. We didn’t realize just how much liquid gold a healthy hive could produce. I will say this, the old beekeeper was certainly doing well when the hives were healthy. I remember that we would get a handful of quart jars each year, and we were happy to get those. The first batch Dad harvested yielded three gallons. If Dad sold that batch at market prices, he would clear $100 after the cost of a case of jars ($25). Now, understand that the market prices are certainly driven by overhead, shipping, and all that other stuff that a private grower doesn’t have to worry about.

What happened next was what really got me thinking. Dad had all of this wax left over from his harvest. Being ever creative, he came up with some terrific uses of the wax, though none of them should surprise you.

The first thing he did with the wax was fashion homemade candles with it. He added ground cedar wood, commonly found on our land, as a scent. Each hive produced several candles.

Additionally, with the addition of some essential oils, such as lavender, he formulated different balms and lotions. Of course, I didn’t care much for them, but my wife sure did.

I did, however, love having a steady supply of honey.  I was able to do what my parents and grandparents had done when we had steady supply years ago. I featured it in my own BBQ sauces and marinades. I used it in glazes and salad dressings, and of course we ate it on toast and biscuits all the time.

That was all great, but a series of events made me appreciate apiculture and think of it as a real resource for making money on the side as a hobby or even in an TEOTWAWKI situation. I had a friend from Wisconsin over one night for some BBQ. He was watching me make a glaze for some chicken, and he noticed that I was using copious amounts of honey. He noticed that I wasn’t pouring from a store bought jar, so he asked where I had come up with it. I told him about our families history with the bees and how we were now producing it regularly again. He immediately asked if I would sell him some. He was willing to pay whatever we wanted, even offering $25 for the quart jar. Taken aback, I asked him why he wanted it that bad. He went on to explain that he had terrible allergies and that local honey was a proven way of inoculating yourself to the effects of local pollen on your sinuses. Of course, I didn’t charge him anything. I just gave him some. However, it started me thinking about the value of honey as a renewable resource. The idea was further fortified as I read “Alas, Babylon” a few months ago.

In a barter and trade situation, most everyone will only have a fixed amount of resources to barter with. Few people will have the ability to produce a valuable staple on a regular basis. However, honey is a resource that doesn’t take much manpower to operate. You need a few special items and a few hours a month to ensure the health of your hives and to harvest and process the honey and byproducts. While honey may not seem like a necessity and more of a luxury, I challenge you to think a little outside of the box, as the protagonist in the aforementioned literary work thought.

Man will always want alcohol. Throughout history, alcohol has been a staple of man. Whether it is a a vice, a hobby, or a survival technique, man will always want alcohol. We see many Biblical examples throughout the bible, from Noah to the parables taught by Jesus. We see it used by explorers on the high seas to stave off the affects of water stagnation and contamination. Obviously, there are many medicinal uses. Though alcohol will always be a sought after commodity, not every man will have the ability to produce it. Alcohol based on honey is unique in that the bees do all the hard work, as opposed to man tending a vineyard, orchard, or cane grove. While the bees make the main ingredient, the man can be doing other useful things to provide and protect. It is one of the few products that is stable over time, meaning that storage and spoilage is not an issue as it would be with other consumables, such as crops. If the demand is low or the supply is high, the producer can simply store the excess for another time, which can’t be said for other products.

That isn’t to say that alcohol is the only product of apiculture that is valuable. Candles will be one of the most important consumable housewares that all people will need and will be one of the things that the average person will run out of first. Face it, the work doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. While many houses have a fireplace that could provide light, most people (especially here in the South) won’t want to have a roaring fireplace between the months of March and October.  Additionally, light will be needed in more places than the living room. When the sun goes down, people still need to see to eat,  wash dishes, mend clothes, go to the bathroom, and so forth. Apiculture provides a renewable source of valuable wax to make such candles, which don’t take man much time to produce but provide a necessary product for the family as well as a valuable commodity to trade or sell.

Candles and honey aren’t the only two valuable products that can be harvested through apiculture, though they are easily the two most visible ones. There is at least one other valuable thing that apiculture offers that you may not have considered because it isn’t a direct product.  Perhaps the most important thing that partaking in apiculture can gain someone is the pollination services offered by bees. In case you missed that part of the 3rd grade, pollination is a requirement for growing anything. Though other insects do aid in pollination, the amount of pollination done by these insects compared to a local hive of bees pales in comparison. Having a hive even remotely close to your orchard or garden will ensure than the maximum amount of pollination will be achieved. When you think about all the things that can (and do) go wrong every planting and growing season, this is one aspect that you can control. You may not be able to control the weather, but you can at least ensure that the maximum numbers of plants were pollinated.

Whether you are looking for a new hobby, a way to make some money at your local farmers market, or you are looking to prepare yourself for TEOTWAWKI, apiculture is one of the most valuable and overlooked ways to achieve any of these goals. In its most basic form, it provides honey– one of the most expensive liquids per unit volume and a favorite at the table for millions. Honey can be used to produce alcohol, one of the human necessities, which would provide you and your family with an extremely useful product for your own use, or a renewable product to sell or trade. The bi-products from apiculture are extremely useful in making items such as candles and balms. The bees themselves are a blessing for anyone striving to grow crops. Even though apiculture provides all of these staples, it is one of the easiest things to learn and implement on your homestead, but it is an art that is dying out in today’s culture. Though most people don’t have the land or ability to participate, we should all understand what apiculture provides to humanity and what its decreasing participation is doing to our world.

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