Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why do you keep bees?

     As we enter our fourth year of beekeeping, I've been thinking about why we began in the first place.  In the fall of 2007, I think it was, Kathy suggested we attend a session at a local county park on the subject of beekeeping.  We got to see and touch some of the basic pieces of equipment and paraphernalia that is part of the whole process and learned a bit about the biology of the European honey bee, its life cycle and social structure.  A bit fascinated, we decided to go into it a bit further and signed up for a year-long course, meeting roughly once a month, in which we would learn the basics of beekeeping, order and install our bees and follow them through the first season, including extraction of honey (from the nature center's bees since ours wouldn't likely be producing the first season.)
     At the first meeting, we were asked by the instructor why we were interested in pursuing this endeavor.  I responded that we were primarily interested in having bees to help with pollination of our garden, our many fruit trees and bushes as well as our vineyard, with getting our own honey a secondary reason.
     Though we've had the little vineyard for some time, I didn't even realize that the grape flowers are primarily pollinated via the wind, not honey bees.  The flowers are simply too little.  However, we had read that fruit trees, in particular, have much more successful pollination and the fruit produced by pollination from bees is superior to that produced by other species and methods.  (I've since learned that is also quite debatable.  One thing I have come to learn as I've grown older is that practically everything I once learned and thought to be solid, basic fact is today up for debate.  Some things, in fact, have even come full circle, having gone through various cycles of doubt and validation.  Take beekeeping, for example:  ask 10 beekeepers if you should feed bees and you'll get 10 different answers. Take your pick.)
     Today, four years later, my reasons for keeping bees have changed.  I have been very surprised to see very few of our honey bees on our fruit trees in the spring, for example, and the same holds true for many items in our garden.  My blueberries are pollinated primarily by other smaller, native bees and bumblebees.  We see some on our strawberries and raspberries but also see many other types of bees.  We never see them on our tomato plants (30+ plants each season) or peppers.  Squash bees by far dominate any of the squash/pumpkin/zucchini etc. type plant.  So, having them for pollination purposes hasn't seemed to be a great benefit.  Honey production the past two years has been pretty good, though mostly from our first hive. We have enjoyed that, not only for ourselves but having extra to give to friends and relatives (funny we mention those groups as though they are exclusive of one another...)

     I have simply found the bees to be very fascinating, an endless source of education and entertainment.  I love to sit out back on a warm summer afternoon and watch them come and go, watch the new bees circle about as they orient themselves, and watch them carrying in huge loads of pollen.  I enjoy showing them off to visitors and talking about them, though I'm aware that one can go on and on about their bees and you have to be careful to only do so if your audience is truly interested and asking questions.  It's those times that I realize how much I truly enjoy beekeeping--when I've discovered how much we have learned and how much there is yet to learn.
     How about you?  Why do you keep bees or would like to do so?  To help with pollination?  To get honey, beeswax and other bee by-products?  To raise bees because you've heard all about the great loss of honey bees due to CCD or whatever?  Please share your thoughts.  I'd like to hear them.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Feeding Time

February 17th, and another of a string of nice days.  Temperatures today reached the upper 40's.  We ordered some pollen patties and today seemed like a good day to apply them.
Bees were flying at both hives when we went out to check on them.  Popping the lids, we found quite a few bees above the inner cover, particularly on hive #1, and many more bees on top of the frames in the top box.  I minimized the time the bees were exposed to the air and gently placed the patties on top of the frames.  I had to adjust my first placement, since it was directly in the middle so when I put the inner cover on, the oval slot was completely blocked.
Bees looked healthy.  No sign of nosema and the number of mites on each pull-out tray was very minimal.  In fact, I had trouble seeing any at all.  Crumbs from wax cappings indicated bees have been feeding on honey.
It will be interesting to see how quickly they consume the patties.  I'll try to check in about 2 weeks.
To see a short video of today's work, watch Adding Pollen .

Monday, February 6, 2012

I'm a buzzin', Mon

We just returned from a weeklong getaway to Grand Cayman.  While gone, we missed some "almost" Caribbean-type weather here in Iowa, where temps reached over 60 degrees!  Still, it was a bit warmer there (pretty much 81 degrees every day). 
While sitting out on the patio of our nice apt. (that's Kathy in the hat), we noticed honeybees flying around the palms.  Dumbly, though I had the camera with me on several occasions, I failed to take a picture.  They were all over the little blossoms that eventually turn into coconuts.  We saw them everywhere we went on the island, so I began to wonder if there are many beekeepers there.  After just a little research on google, I found this link to a blog entry about Otto Watler, a native Caymanian beekeeper.  I think you might find it interesting.  He sounds like a busy, creative guy.  Hopefully he is still tending his gardens, and I wish we had known about him earlier.
Aside from the coconut palms, we saw bees on a number of plants.  Below is a sampling of some of the gorgeous blooming plants we found.  I did not see any bumblebees though I think I did spot some smaller pollinators. It really seemed the honeybees were in the vast majority, though.  It's a shame, given the relative poverty of the island, that more do not try to at least supplement income by keeping bees.  It may be that more do than I'm aware of.

Whoops, I think this guy might eat honeybees--and fingers, toes...