Another great two-part blog post from our Pacific Horticulture Students!

Benefits of Beekeeping

by Lisa Giles

Beekeeping is becoming more and more common these days. For many of us the first thought that comes to mind when we think of bee keeping is honey and for a good reason. Honey is full of antioxidants, flavonoids, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties making it a great health food. It can replace other refined sugars in our baking and cooked dishes and can even be slathered on the skin to relieve dryness. Honey is a wonderful sweet treat the bees provide but there are many other benefits of keeping bees you might not have considered.

Keeping bees can reduce mental stress and promote relaxation. Being out in nature, focused on your hive, hearing the hum of the busy bee, has a way of transporting you to a place of peace. Beekeeping requires you to slow down and move with intention, encouraging you to let go of the days demands and live in the moment. Beekeeping for some is a medicine, it can alleviate stress, anxiety and depression. A form of meditation for some.

Another reason for keeping bees is enhanced pollination. If you’re someone who loves to garden, the act of keeping bees can boost pollination rates of fruits, vegetables and flowers. Your bees will feed on your flowers around the home and your plants will love you for it.

Keeping bees can provide endless entertainment. Some say that they can lose hours at a time just sitting and watching the bees fly in and out of the hive. It can be similar to watching an ant farm if you’re lucky enough to have an observation hive.

You become fascinated with nature. It’s hard to observe bees and not start to appreciate the interconnections of the world we live in. You begin to look around more often and take time to enjoy the outdoors.

We are becoming more aware of the giant list of toxic ingredients that are allowed in beauty and body products. A good reason to make your own. Beeswax is a product collected from the hive that can form the base of salves, lip balms, and other beauty products. Beeswax can also be used to make your own toxic free candles. Add some essential oils to the mix and you have a wonderful scented gift for family and friends.

Beekeeping is exciting for children. It is a great way to get them out of the house and away from their screens. They can help care for the bees, allowing them to witness how nature works and where their honey comes from. Also, kids can create a sense of responsibility and pride in taking care of a living creature.

Raising bees and nurturing them helps to increase their numbers. Bees have taken a serious decline in the recent years because of Colony Collapse Disorder. CCD is a serious problem but is not fully understood. By providing more homes for the bees it just might help.

For all these reasons and more, beekeeping might be the hobby for you. With proper management practices, beekeeping is safe in residential settings. The rules, regulations and guidelines will depend on the area you live. A quick search online will provide you with the information you need to become a beekeeper in your area. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to walk out your backdoor and have a bustling community of bees. For some it’s just for the honey, but for others, it might be so much more.

Apiculture: An Introduction to Beekeeping

by Spencer Grant

Humans have always had an infatuation with honey. This sweet, calorie-dense, antioxidant packed, multi-regurgitated bug juice has had a place in our lives since our all but forgotten hunter-gatherer days. Cave paintings discovered in Spain, estimated to be ten thousand year old, depict man repelling down a cliff face on ropes carrying a burning stick to subdue wild bees and steal their honey. This shows the perils and the lengths early humans were willing to go to acquire the luscious substance. It was the ancient Egyptians however that stepped up from raiding wild honey to cultivating domesticated bees. It is suggested in hieroglyphs that the Egyptians would transport hives up and down the Nile to accommodate them with the changing seasons. This was the beginning of apiculture; the art and science of managing and domesticating honey bees.

Though honey always has a market and is not always easy to procure in good quality, it is not the primary money maker for the local apiculture market; the cash is in the bees. A lack of meadows of rambling wild flowers and sprawling farmlands of crops such as alfalfa means honey production in our area is not as lucrative as it is in the prairies or back east. You would be hard pressed to find a commercial honey operation around here. On lower Vancouver Island hobby bee keeping reigns subprime, the money is in the bees. Queens from local stock sell for an upwards of 40 dollars each and a nucleus colony, which we will touch on later, for around 300 dollars. Demands for these are so high that they must be ordered in the fall if needed for spring. The following is a very brief overview of what to know and expect when setting up backyard apiary.

Structure/Location:
The ancient Egyptians would have created their hives from mud harvested from the Nile. Today things are done a bit differently. The modern standard for backyard apiaries consists of a series of wooden boxes and boards. It is recommended to keep your apiary off the ground on a frame to improve airflow and reduce disease and moisture build up. The first layer of an apiary is called the bottom board, this can be either solid or screened. On top of this sits your hive bodies, the boxes in which your frames sit, your entrance-excluder and mouse guards. Frames are the structures on which the bees build their wax and honey. They are usually made of plastic with a wood frame, all plastic, or foundation-less; which essentially a blank frame that allows the bees to construct their own frame from wax. As your hive grows you can add more hive bodies and frames to expand your population and production. An inner cover made of wood is places on the top of the outer most, it has an entrance hole in the approximate middle. The outer cover hangs off the edges of the structure and has a metal roof that protects the hive from the elements. Many beekeepers tilt their hives slightly forward to help with drainage.
The location of your back yard apiary also plays an important factor. Protection from wind and rain is essential, as is providing enough room between bee colonies. If you’re in an urban area place your hives near hedging or fencing so the bees must fly over and hare less apparent; however ensure there is enough room around your hives to be able to work.

Colonizing:
To establish a new colony you have a few options. In all of the following scenarios you should make sure your bees are pest and disease free. If in doubt you can call the provincial bee inspector (contact information available on BC Provincial Government website). You can buy a nucleus colony, or a ‘nuc’ for short, which is a partially developed colony of bees already established on frames. They already have an established queen, infrastructure and stores of food built up. You can, in essence, place the frames and let them go. Its a good way to jump-start your colony. You can also buy bees in packages. This is almost exactly what it sounds like; a bunch of bees in a package. What really sets it apart from a ‘nuc’ is that there is no established queen. You must introduce the bees to your hive then slowly integrate the queen. To do this you must keep her in a separated ‘queen cage’, place the cage in between the frames of the colony; it takes about 3 days for the colony to accept the queen. The cage is sealed off by something called a ‘candy plug’ which is sugar and corn syrup. By the time the bees eat through this they will have accepted the queen and not kill her.
It is also possible to buy dormant, over wintered colonies. All that is required it to give them some food to help them get going again.

Swarming:
Swarming is the bees natural method of creating extra living space and dividing their colony. It generally occurs around the end of April to the end of June, though it is not unheard of to happen later. When it becomes overcrowded the worker bees have a harder time picking up the queens pheromones and she becomes almost non-existent to them; at this point the colony decides to divide and swarm. In the days leading up to this there is a dramatic increase in the population of the worker bees. These bees then make queen cells for the laying of a new queen and start gathering up food and nutrients. The queen then lays eggs in the queen cells and bees begin clustering around the entrance of the hive. In an event both nerve racking and breath taking the queen takes off from her old colony along with thousands of worker bees. The swarm then finds a nearby place, often just a few metres from the old colony to rest as the queen is not the best equipped for flight. This could be anything from a tree branch to the back of someones vehicle. The swarm will rest as scout bees are sent out to locate a new home. This could be an thing from a tree stump, to somebody’s attic to a new bee box you have set up near by. Once the bees have decided on a new location they will make their final move and live happily ever after. Meanwhile, in the old colony the new queen hatches. With the help of her workers she eliminates the other queens developing in their cells and declares herself the sole monarch.
You can attempt to control swarming by adding extra space or requeening your colony every two years or so, however at the end of the day if the bees want to swarm they will. Despite what a lot of bee keeps may say this is not a bad thing and does not reflect poorly on you as a bee keeper. Swarming is a natural even that is necessary in the succession of the hive.

Varroa:
Varroa destructor, is a small, reddish-brown, eight legged mite less than 2mm x 2mm height and width. Introduced from Asia in the late 1980’s, the varroa mite is the single most detrimental pest know to honey bees. They are responsible for wiping out colonies all over the world. The mites attach and feed on honey bees in the adult and pupa stages. They use pheromones to disguise themselves from the honey bees. In human terms it would be like having a dinner plate sized mite attached to you back that you could not feel.
There is no perfect solution for getting rid of varroa. Integrated pest management is the best bet, formic and oxalic acid are thought to help. To test for mites you take about half a cup of bees, place them in a jar with three tablespoons of icing sugar. Shake them around then pour the sugar off and through a mesh screen, count your mites, if you have more than 8 or 10 then you have a problem. Remember this is just a test for mites, not a solution to them.
Some bees posses a trait called, Varroa sensitive hygiene, which allows them to detect and groom mites off. This is rare and hard to prove, the price of VSH bees increases exponentially.

In conclusion apiculture, the keeping of domesticated honey bees is a fusion of art and science. Great tact must be employed when keeping these creatures, thinking a head months, even year will bridge the gap between hive decimation and success.