Bees: Security Guard or Grocery Store?- Part 1, by J.P.

When I first woke up to the reality of what we, as humans, are being subjected to on a daily basis, I was indeed in a state of panic. With people killing innocents left and right, genetic “Franken-food”, the poisoning of food and water due to negligence, life can seem real heavy real fast. That feeling of fear was the turning point for me, telling me that I needed to slow my life down and enjoy the wonderful gifts that the Lord has granted us, humans, here on earth.

One marvelous gift that has been granted upon us is the lowly bee. It is amazing how beautiful of a creation they are. Even science was confused how they can fly and support their own weight during flight (not to mention surplus nectar). There are many varieties and species of bees. I will reference most of this article on the honeybee.

A single bee can travel up to 150,000 times its body length in search of food and do so multiple times a day! With every trip, it returns with a miniscule amount of nectar in its little stomach or pollen on its leg baskets to be placed in a cell for future use. That is like running to the next county for a Cheetos and returning until the bag is gone! Let’s now explore what it takes to raise the humble bee and what they can provide for us when cared for properly.

The Equipment

Hive

This is the bee’s home. I myself use eight frame “medium” boxes, which are 19-7/8” x 13-3/4” x 6-5/8” deep on its outside dimensions. (Subtract ¾” on each side for its inside dimensions.) It keeps things from getting too heavy.

Frame

This has become the standard way to manage beehives across the world. It is a removable rectangle made of wood/plastic that the bees “draw” their wax in and make honeycomb (or “comb” for short). All of the top bars are 1-1/16” wide x 19” long, 3/8” thick with a bottom bar length of 17-5/8” and an overall frame height of 6-1/8”. They are removable and rest in a ledge cut out at the top of the box (inside and flush). You can raise bees with bars only with a strip on the center; you just may have more wax to scrape from the box sides. I use bars only in my top boxes on a big hive where only honey goes, since I take both honey and wax when I harvest these boxes anyway using the crush and strain method.

Comb

The cells are made of beeswax and can be used for honey storage, making baby bees, or storing pollen. Its strength is amazing for how light it is.

Knowledge

I cannot provide all knowledge on beekeeping in this article, as volumes have been written on the craft. I would however recommend reading The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally by Michael Bush in addition to Beekeeping for All by Emile Warre (translated by others and usually free as a PDF). I have no affiliation to either, but I have to give credit to all the help these two works made to my beekeeping. These would be a great start for beginners. The Internet, of course, has more info than you can read on the matter as well. Just try one new thing at a time, or you won’t know what works.

The Honeybee

The bee that most people are familiar with is the honeybee. This is the bee that gives us that much coveted substance– honey. Honey is a delicious food, causes less of a severe response than cane sugar, does not spoil (Egyptian tombs contained still edible honey!), and is useful medicinally (burns, allergies, et cetera). I could go on for days about the benefits of unadulterated pure/raw honey, as well as how to raise the bees, but others have covered much more than I in much greater detail already.

I recommend that everyone invest in their future by starting a beehive, though it’s best to start with two beehives. You may notice that once you start a beehive, your whole family may want to join in your new found joy of raising these amazing creatures, as it is increasing in popularity. They take up hardly any room, are easy to care for, and take a very reasonable amount of effort to raise. If you help them where they need it and step out of the way, they will thank you with honey, wax, pollen, and propolis (bee glue), all which have very important homestead functions.

People generally try and avoid bees because most people are scared to death of them going “killer bee” on them. I emphasize that you should always respect bees, no less than you would large, mean dogs. Now that everyone is scared, let me clarify. When you respect the creatures you are working with, bees or otherwise, you are raising that animal as the Lord intended. Kindness and care is rewarded; roughness and shortcuts are not. You will be intimidated opening up a full box of bees your first few weeks or months, but if you respect the animal and do all in your power not to harm them, you will get more comfortable handling them in no time.

In Southern climates, there are high possibilities that your bees have Africanized genetics. (Africanized bees cannot survive cold winters.) This is not the end of the world, but you do need experience working these bees now to know how they like to be handled. For this reason, I recommend all beginning beekeepers procure full bee suits and protective gear.

Pests

Perhaps the most feared and misunderstood pest of honeybees is the varroa mite. These little bugs are the size of a pin head and usually hitch a ride on a bee from flowers or other bee congregation areas. Once in the hive, they look for the biggest cells and breed when bee eggs are laid there. They then drain the bees of bodily fluids and can eventually weaken a hive to the point of death or absconding (where all bees abandon the hive).

Perhaps the biggest factor I have seen in reducing these little monsters is to let the bees build as small a cell as they want for offspring using natural comb (letting them draw from strips). This is usually seen most in wild hives, as the bees are smaller and more numerous. Larger bees were “cultured” by beekeepers who wanted bigger bees to carry back more nectar each trip. I attribute wild bee survival mostly to the smaller cells that wild bees create, hence it’s more difficult for the mites to find room when the babies are laid. Mostly, all plastic bee equipment is too large of a cell size, and this is why I use starting strip frames only.

Another group of pests are what I call “buildup pests”. After a few years of using materials, moisture and sugars as well as a bunch of other things start to concentrate in the pores of wood. These bacteria and fungi (foul brood and Nosema) are a good incentive to change out your equipment every few years. Please read up on these, as your mileage may vary compared to what I do for prevention. That’s why you should start keeping bees now.

The last group of pests are a little easier to treat for. Hive beetles and wax moths are two insects that love the environment of a hive. They crawl in and set up camp, and if not controlled they can wipe out a hive. Hive beetles will start laying in wood crevices and then start to eat around the bees. Wax moths are opportunistic and will lay eggs in the comb so that they can hatch and eat it all up. Both can be present in a healthy hive but usually aren’t. I have found that these two are best managed by keeping a balance with how much space the bees have available. I like the “1/4” rule. For every four frames bees are covering 75% or more of each frame (only ¼ missing), one frame should be added as free space. If you have a hive of 40 frames covered full with bees, 10 empty frames worth still gives room to keep them dense to fight off pests. If some frames have 50% coverage, combine two for your calculations. Also, a small hive entrance (but not congested) allows the hive to guard against pests best.

Hints: Freezing comb kills wax moth and larvae (though it kills everything else too); borax in a straw or pieces of those corrugated plastic political signs with Crisco in the ends helps control hive beetles.

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