Ok, I couldn’t resist the corny Hamlet reference, but it seemed appropriate. More people have asked me about bees and beekeeping this year than ever before. I don’t mind. I like talking about bees and beekeeping.
How hard is it to keep bees? Can I just put a hive out and let the bees do their thing? I heard all the bees are dying; what can I do to help the bees? I don’t care about the honey, I just want to get better pollination for my garden. Are only a few of the comments and questions I have gotten this spring.
It is exciting to find so many people interested in beekeeping and the plight of bees. I’m even more excited by the idea that so many people want to have bees around instead of trying to kill every bee they see. However, I encourage anyone who is deciding whether to become a beekeeper to first consider their goals and how much time (and money) they want to spend on the endeavor.
Getting into beekeeping can be expensive. You have the cost of hives, protective clothing, bees, various small pieces of equipment to work the hives, and the equipment for extracting honey. You will also have to treat your bees for diseases / pests or may have to feed your bees to help them get established. Both treating and feeding your bees costs additional money. Many of the items you buy the first year can be used for multiple years, but some will need continual replacement. Even the bees may need to be replaced. On average, approximately 22% of hives don’t make it through the winter.
Beekeeping is also labor intensive. Exactly how labor intensive can depend on the type of hive you choose, the bees you have, that year’s environmental conditions, and numerous other variables. The idea of sticking a hive in your backyard and turning a handle to let yummy honey come pouring out like water from a faucet may be nice, but it is far from that easy. I have been in my hives approximately once a week this summer checking on the health of the bees, how much brood they have, the laying pattern of the queen, and the amount of pollen and nectar they have stored.
I’m not trying to discourage anyone from becoming a new beekeeper. I love beekeeping and am happy to help others join the field. Many of my future blog posts will talk about different aspects of beekeeping and my journey as a beekeeper. However, as much as I enjoy beekeeping and helping others get started, I think it is important for people to carefully consider whether they have the time, resources, and interest to devote to beekeeping.
When someone tells me they are thinking about getting into beekeeping, but aren’t sure about it, I ask them why they want the bees. Sometimes the answer is honey or because their <insert family member> used to do it. Other times the answer is to help the bees or for pollinating their garden / small orchard. For people in the latter two categories, I offer an alternative that often surprises them.
I suggest they concentrate on native bees instead of honeybees. Native bees don’t require the time, equipment, or other resources that honeybees require. Research indicates that native bees often do as good, or better, at pollinating many garden plants and fruit trees as honey bees do. Concentrating on native bees means you won’t have any honey to harvest, but some people are ok with that.
There are many things you can do such as providing nesting sites and foraging habitat to encourage native bees in your yard or garden. One of my goals with this blog is to help people become more aware of native bees and other pollinators. Although native bees don’t get the publicity that honeybees do, they are just as important and are also experiencing severe population declines.
In future posts, I plan to highlight different native bees and ways to encourage each of them to inhabit your property. This includes using native plants to create pollinator habitat and other actions you can take to develop bee-friendly landscapes. We’ll go into more detail in the coming weeks and months.
This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.
Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.