Memphis Backyard Farmer

Bee Keeping 101: What’s Your Function?
January 12, 2014, 2:58 am
Filed under: Bee Keeping | Tags: , , ,

David holding frame of honeyLast week’s post in my Bee Keeping 101 series was a reminder that if you’re ordering packages, now (January) is the time to do it. It was also the very first post of the series.

It seems I may need to back up a bit.

I had a series of comments with a reader, leading to a great dialogue, about why I would advocate ordering packaged bees (~$80-$90) when folks could just catch free swarms. From there we delved into what is today’s topic; Why do you want to keep bees in the first place?

I am now the third in four generations of bee keepers. My grandfather kept bees for honey. I remember visiting both his house and farm and seeing hives towering over my head, stacked tall with honey supers. I remember the shelves in my grandmother’s pantry lined with quart jars full of honey. And always when we would visit, they would send a jar home. It was beautiful, golden, and packed with sealed, white comb. I started keeping bees because it’s in my blood, and because I love honey. Once folks find out that I sell honey, they start asking questions to find out if it’s a money maker. In fact, most people I meet think that the reason you raise bees is to make money on honey. There is no money in honey. Actually, I make enough to put back in the business for needed replacement supplies each year.

Other folks, like Solarbeez are concerned about the plight of bees (you’ve been hiding in a hole if you don’t know how much trouble bee colonies are in these days) and are doing their best to make increase the natural bee population by collecting and propagating swarms using natural bee keeping methods, and using fewer “modern” industrial techniques for housing and caring for bees. (Check out Solarbeez incredible log hives!)

Being in the gardening/farming community, I also meet lots of folks who want bees simply to pollinate their crops. They set up hives in their yards and gardens, or along crop rows to increase fruit production.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered based on what I’ve observed from these different groups: your method of bee keeping often depends on your goals in bee keeping. But also, rarely does a bee keeper fall firmly into only one of these categories. In fact, often a well educated bee keeper can’t help but nod his head in agreement when he/she understands the arguments.

Hopefully we’ll have time to discuss this further, but here a few more notes: If honey is not your primary reason for tending bees, then consider making your own equipment, especially top bar hives. They have a very basic design and can be easily assembled from scavenged scrap wood. They’re easy to throw a swarm or a package of bees in, but more difficult to transition from a nuc. You can find lots of very complicated plans on the web, but really all you need to see is the basic structure to kick your imagination in high gear. Here are some plans to get you going. If you’re into honey production, then a Langstroth hive is probably the way to go. It has become the de facto standard for honey production. It’s easy to build up a honey-making factory, and it’s convenient for swapping parts with other hives and other bee keepers. But they’re considerably more expensive and more complicated to build from scratch. I usually buy my Langstroth parts from Brushy Mountain. You can buy a complete kit from them here.

After many years of bee keeping, I find myself squarely in the “all three categories” camp. I really want honey. I really want the bees to pollinate my crops. But I do everything I can to promote natural bee health, including open breeding, no pesticides, swarm catching, and certainly – though accidentally – swarm releasing.

If you’re already a bee keeper, you’ll get that joke.

2014 Farm To Table Conference
January 8, 2014, 7:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Farm to Table LogoI wanted to take a quick minute to give a shout out for this year’s Farm to Table conference on February 4 in Memphis. I missed it last year, but attended the first two years. I learned a ton of great information that ranged from growing melons to selling in farmer’s markets. It’s also a great way to connect with like minded foodies, farmers, and policy makers.

You can get more info here at their web site (which, admittedly, is still a bit sparse).

See you there!

Bee Keeping 101: It’s That Time
January 4, 2014, 1:11 am
Filed under: Bee Keeping | Tags: , , ,

My Newest Hive

I’ve had several folks ask this year if I’d help them get started in bee keeping. I’ve been keeping bees for 15 or 16 years now, so I guess that makes me “experienced” enough to give out a bit of advice. So here’s your first bit of advice here on January 3; time to order bees.

I know it’s freezing right now. Heck, it’ll be 16 in Memphis next week, with a low of 9. The bees aren’t doing anything except huddling together in their hive trying to keep each other warm. But in just three short months (in Memphis), the temps will regularly inch up to more than 55 degrees, and the bees will start flying, looking for forage. By early April there will be a steady honey flow due to the mass of flowering plants here in the south, and you want to have your hives well established in order to take advantage of the flow.

WARNING: If you wait until March or April to order your bees, you’ll be flat out of luck.

Established bee keepers know that there’s a fixed number of bees at any specific time (after all, they’re living creatures that must be bred), and coming out of winter, the numbers are generally low. First come, first served is the name of the game this time of year.

So step number one that you should be thinking about right now is ordering either packages or nucs (nucleus hive), preferably from a local bee keeper (we’ll talk about why that’s important in another post).

If I were just starting out, I’d check with my local extension office for a bee keeping association. Hook up with the guys/girls in the group and find out who they order from, or whether any of the members would be willing to sell you a nuc. You can find a goldmine of information and make some terrific connections through your local bee keepers’ association.

No rest for the weary backyard farmer. While you’re sitting inside enjoying your hot chocolate, start looking for bee breeders!