This is Part 2 of a presentation entitled “All about Bees” given at Adams Farm last June by Community gardener and beekeeper Bill Kiggen.
If you’re interested in taking up beekeeping, it’s important to understand that beekeeping must be done at the right time for the bees, not when you have time. You have to be in tune with the bees. While the bees are in the process of building up the colony, enough room should be left in the hive for it to expand, otherwise the hive will split and swarm.
A typical healthy hive can produce up to 400 lbs. of honey per season. Half of this is consumed by the bees living in the hive during the spring and summer, 100 lbs. must be left in the hive for the bees to eat during the winter, and the remaining surplus may be taken by the beekeeper. On 90° days, the nectar in flowers dries up, so there’s no food for the bees. The bees can’t create enough food if these conditions persist. This will destroy the hive unless beekeepers provide the bees with supplemental feeding of sugar syrup or stockpiled honey.
Egyptian hives were the first portable hives and were cylinders constructed of reeds and mud. These were destroyed when the honey was collected. Hives made of straw or wicker called skeps were used until the mid-1800’s. The modern hive is a box-like structure containing removable frames on which the bees build their honeycomb. Stackable hives such as these are easier to manage and transport, so bees can be taken to food sources to assist with pollination.
In today’s world of monocultural farming, crops have no natural defense against pests. New pesticides have been developed that are actually a part of the plant itself. The pollen collected by the bees as they pollinate these plants contains the pesticide. When the pollen is transported back to the hive, the hive becomes toxic. This may be a factor in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in which worker bees disappear from their hives.
More responsible polycultural farming methods, such as interplanting (the practice of planting a fast-growing crop between a slower-growing one in order to make the most of garden space) and companion planting (the planting of different crops in proximity for pest control, pollination, providing habitat for beneficial creatures, maximizing use of space, and otherwise increasing crop productivity) avoid the excessive use of pesticides and are more bee-friendly agricultural practices.
Integrated pest management (IPM) is another avenue that is being explored. IPM involves using appropriate measures to discourage the development of pest populations, keeping pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically justified, while reducing or minimizing risks to human health and the environment.
In closing, Konstantin Pandelov, the beekeeper of the new bee yard at Adams Farm, introduced the audience to a variety of bee-related products. Beeswax is used in making creams and lip balms; bee venom can be used to treat joint and muscle problems. One teaspoon of bee pollen taken daily can improve your health. Propolis, a resinous substance collected by bees that is used in hive construction, is a natural antibiotic. It can be mixed with alcohol to create sprays or drops that can be used as flu fighters and to strengthen the immune system.
For those interested in learning more about beekeeping, the Norfolk County Beekeeping Association meets the first Monday of every month at the Aggie School. The Beekeeping Association also offers a 10-week Bee School for anyone interested in keeping honeybees.