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.


11 Comments so far
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Well stated! Thanks for the plug.

Comment by solarbeez

When I started keeping bees it seemed so easy. All I had to do was extract honey twice a year. It seems so different these days. Now it’s hard to keep them alive.

We started last year with two hives and ended with one. The hive that survived did not produce enough honey for us to be able to extract any. I fed them in the fall and am hoping for the best. I’m not sure if there will be any bees in the hive come spring or not. I’m surely not a skilled beekeeper, but the folks around here who are, are having the same problems.

Like you we are motivated by all 3 of the concerns you list. We’re using up the last of our honey now. I don’t like the notion of having to buy it. Neither do I like the thought that we might not have as many pollinators around here this year. Most of all I hate the thought of a future without honeybees.

Comment by Bill

Bill, I feel for you. I’ve had the same problem. I’ve lost many hives over the last few years, many to small hive beetle (a huge problem here in the south). Others I know of close to me have lost literally hundreds of hives. It’s decimated their livelihood. I’m hopeful, though. I really believe that this crisis is forcing us to take a hard look at our practices over the last few decades and make some smarter decisions. We have certainly fallen into the trap of industrial farming methods that other agricultural enterprises have. To ride the trend, I believe “slow bee keeping” – smaller, more methodical and more intentional – will become the norm in surviving operations.

Comment by memphisbackyardfarmer

I have been interested in keeping bees for years, I cant wait to dive into your blog. I am sure this blog will teach me a lot. Thank you so much for sharing.

Comment by yourperfectburn

Welcome! Glad you stopped by. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, please shoot me a message and I’ll be glad to help.

Comment by memphisbackyardfarmer

Right now I am just looking for basics, how to build a hive, how to get the bees, how to make sure they stay healthy and happy. that kind of thing.

Comment by yourperfectburn

I’ll give you all I can.

Comment by memphisbackyardfarmer


Comment by yourperfectburn

Thank you for the guide. Am new in beekeeping.

Comment by Tanmay Roy

Welcome, Tanmay! Where are you located?

Comment by memphisbackyardfarmer

Am a soon to be new beekeeper in Chester County. Hive purchased, nuc ordered, gathering tools – reading and seeking as much advice as I can. Joined local beekeepers assoc.
Thanks for providing bee education.

Comment by Joyce

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