Finding Bees: Before and After SHTF (continued)
You can take a piece of an active hive and wire it into a frame in your hive. (Suit up and use a little smoke, which makes bees think their hive is on fire and they have to eat all the honey to save it). If you pay close enough attention and can access the comb, you will find that some comb cells have what look like tiny grains of rice in them. Using a strong flashlight helps to see them; these are new bee eggs! The best spots to take have flat brownish coverings (called capped brood) with open cells with eggs circling it, and will be mostly in the center of big chunks of dark color comb. By taking just a piece of this comb from a wild hive (with some “nurse” bees that cling to it), you can put it in your hive with some honey to feed them, and they will try to raise their own queen. It is imperative that the eggs are as tiny as possible, about the size of Lincoln’s nose on a penny or smaller. They need to be under three days old. Any older and it might not become a queen. It is important that all existing comb be oriented as it was in the hive, as comb is built with a slight pitch towards its center. Try to get comb as big as an 8×11 sheet of paper with a group of bees at least a big cereal bowl full. (You can wire the comb in more than one frame.) To start the hive, start them in a single box with a small entrance. If they’re successful, you’ll see eggs in a month or so.
Wire the comb under your frame to bars, stuff the entrance of your hive with grass, and then remove it in two days, if the bees don’t. To give them the best chance of living, add honey in a small flat container in the hive with cheesecloth or popsicle sticks on the surface of the honey. These items help to feed them and prevent drowning. This way, you get bees started, and the hive you took it from is not that worse for wear. You may even get the queen with your comb, and the wild hive will raise another. This is how I duplicate hives, repopulate, re-queen, or manage busy hives of my own (just in larger amounts). Sometimes hives die; it happens to the best of us. You will never learn if you never try!
Another way to get bees is to look for “swarms” in the spring. This varies by location, but a swarm looks like a droopy ball of bees that are hanging from something. They usually don’t hang around long, as they are looking for a new home, but if you can get to one quick, you can place that whole group in a hive box and close the entrance for a day or two. They should start drawing wax on your bars/frames and living there, if they like their new home. This is the natural way that honeybee hives reproduce and diversify populations. You won’t need to feed, since swarms eat honey before they leave their past hive, but it helps.
The last method of collecting bees is a swarm trap. Use your desired bee box with some lemongrass oil and some old empty comb inside, hanging the box 6-15 feet in the air. The box should be roughly the size of three to four men’s shoeboxes in volume, with a 1.5-inch hole at the bottom corner. This is my preferred way to get swarms, as it is minimal time and effort involved. Plus, the bees are already in a house you made when you find them. If you locate a wild hive in early spring, put a swarm trap or two within ½ mile at habitat edges and your luck increases exponentially. Usually they work best on south facing trees from April to June, but there is lots of debate to what traps work best and where. After all, variety and trying things is part of the fun of beekeeping!
Uses for Bees: Everything Else
In addition to area security, bees are a wonderful and valuable resource in which you can take pride in your food and economic security as well. I have yet to hear a hungry person say, “No, I don’t like honey thank you.” In times of famine, your hives could mean the difference between you and others going hungry or having the energy to split that last load of wood before a storm. Bees are, after all, one of the oldest animals raised by humans for a reason.
Beehives provide a plethora of uses around the home. Here are some “regular” uses:
- Honey for eating and medicinal use, used as a sugar substitute for food and alcohol production,
- Beeswax for candles, lubricating tools, waterproofing clothing and shoes, and for skin products, and
- Pollination increases. Your orchards will really thank you, when bees are close to them.
Some non-traditional uses of bee products I have tried include the following:
- Using wax to create your own deodorant recipes, waterproofing of ropes or string, heat sealing cloth seams, basically anything you can use paraffin for but beeswax is non-toxic. I personally like using beeswax to coat wood; it just looks so beautiful.
- Using the propolis (bee glue) like a resin. Warm, it is sticky and pliable. Cool, it is hard like epoxy. Careful though propolis is downright impossible to get out of clothes!
- Eating the pollen dropped by the bees, as well as the propolis for health benefits. Propolis also has antibacterial properties.
- Stings have been used medicinally to reduce inflammation and arthritis/joint problems. I have been stung on my bad wrist and knee a few times, and I always feel less ache in them the following months, so there may be something clinical to this. (Please use this information only as reference of what I have observed of these creatures. Consult with your physician first and use at your own discretion so that you can be sure allergies or sensitivities do not exist!)
Honorable Mention- The Mason Bee
Much smaller than the honeybee, this solitary bee is an amazing pollinator. Preferring to lodge and lay its eggs in pre-existing holes, the mason bee lives in areas that usually get cold (below 32 degrees F) for extended periods. They emerge when the temperature is around 55 degrees for at least a few days straight.
During the spring and summer, the females find holes approximately six inches deep suitable for young and lay their eggs in little compartments containing pollen, nectar, et cetera. The eggs hatch and the young spin little hard cocoons, where they stay over the winter. Females are laid deepest in the tube to protect against predators like woodpeckers. The next spring, males emerge first from the ends of the tubes and go about being bees. Since only a few males are needed to breed the females, this protects their population. After a few days of mating once the females emerge, the males all die off.
Their ability to get into the smallest flowers makes them even more efficient than the honeybee at pollination, in my opinion. They don’t need lots of room, and gardens will produce on average 15-20% more produce when properly pollinated. In a survival situation, even 5% more could mean the difference between starving and surviving.
For greenhouse gardening areas, my nod certainly goes to the mason bee for year round pollination, given you provide them with a small dwelling (tubes) and warm enough temperature. They hardly ever affect human activities in a greenhouse. One way to house them is to put out a mason bee “hotel”, which consists of a 6” long piece of 2”x6” non-treated wood (no cedar) with some 5/16” sized holes drilled in it. It is okay to drill right through, as long as you can screw a piece of wood to the back side to keep the eggs protected and dark. They won’t use it if the hole is through without a sealed backing. This also lets you clean out the holes from non-target insects. [Note: I rarely ever use any bee wood more than a few years, to cut down on parasites and disease.] I use four screws down the back plate with around 12-16 holes each for bees. I strap a few of these together when I set them out in a sheltered place. Then, I can pull what I need every few weeks. Make a bunch and set them aside for future use.
Set it out next to flowers in spring, and the bees will lay a long chain of chambers sealed by mud in each hole. You can take some or all of the blocks in the late fall and put them in the refrigerator crisper for a few weeks. If you live somewhere cold in winter, you don’t need to do the refrigerator step. Just bring what you need straight into the greenhouse (or just let them hatch in spring and increase your outdoor pollination). After that, you can take single tubes or blocks out one at a time and place in the greenhouse. They will hatch shortly and continue to linger in the greenhouse trying to collect pollen and nectar for a few weeks. You can repeat this through the winter, provided your green space is consistently above 60 degrees F. You do have to take some care to keep them in. I had the idea to prop the door open while bringing something in during March, and they flew out thinking it was June. They didn’t make it far. Your mileage may vary, as temperature, amount of pollen plants, how often you open the door, and more will influence how well they do.
Once you get started in the adventure of raising bees, you will start a lifelong learning process that can provide for you and others. The uses for these creatures are numerous and beneficial, while at the same time preserving our way of human life. Without bees, after all, crops would fail and humans would starve. There is no amount of human or robot labor as effective as the bee. We are blessed with such creatures by the Lord, so we should enjoy them and share! Be vigilant, learn daily, and love, as we are created to do. By doing these things, your life can change from a lot of fear to a little hope, just like nectar is changed to honey!