The Buzz About Backyard Beekeeping Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 1 Comment
The Covey household just added 10,000 new members to their family. Joe Covey has been part of the local food movement in Fayetteville, Ark., for some time now, and in addition to a lush, fruitful garden and eight backyard chickens, he’s now learning backyard beekeeping and has added a hive of furry and (surprisingly friendly) winged pets.
To be honest, I was a bit reticent to investigate Joe’s new addition, mainly because I was fairly certain it would result in me leaving covered in welts and running like some lady from a Hitchcock film. To my surprise, the bees were amazingly docile. They were also hovering about 10 feet overhead, and didn’t have any interest in reenacting a horror flick.
Apparently, bees have a flight pattern in and out of their hive that they follow every time they exit. If you put an obstacle in front of the exit, the bees will fly up and over—and remain at whatever altitude at which the “over” occurs. This 10-foot high, 3-mile wide flight pattern kept the bees at a safe distance from Covey’s 3-year-old son … and, thankfully, me.
Introducing the Queen Bee to the Lazy-Good-For-Nothing Males
Covey’s new friends arrived in a three-pound box that he ordered from the local beekeeper association (yes, those exist). The beekeeper association was happy to hook Joe up with his new pets, and also connect him to a club member who strictly breeds queen bees. Joe received his queen bee in a little mesh box, separate from the rest of the hive. The mesh box helps protect the queen from the hive—the hive must get used to the very different pheromones of the queen, or they will kill her.
The box for the queen has one exit, which is sealed with fondant. When the worker bees are used to the smell, they will chew through the fondant to bring the queen nectar, and to allow the (extremely lazy, good-for-nothing) male bees to mate with her, which is their sole purpose in the community.
When to Expect Honey
For the first year, Joe will not harvest any honey. The bees will be busy stocking up on this sticky food source so that they can survive the winter. Next spring, Joe will add an additional box, called a “super,” on top of the existing hive. He can stack these supers up to 10 deep—these extra boxes are where humans can harvest honey. The worker bees from one colony will fill up every super with as much honey as they can make, even though the colony can survive on the honey stored in the bottom hive box alone.
Building Your Superhuman Immune System
Joe’s low maintenance little friends will supply him with about 40 pounds of honey a year, plus beeswax. Aside from being a sweetener, Joe may be growing his very own antihistamine. Studies have shown that honey stimulates the immune system and works in a way that is similar to the response triggered by receiving an allergy vaccination. The bees digest the honey and then the digested pollen spores train the human immune system on how to properly respond to the allergen. In my opinion, this method of allergy control is much more tasty (and loads more effective) than over-the-counter meds.
Life Lessons Learned From Bees
After spending a bit of time with Joe and his badass antique beekeeper suit, I came to a few realizations. First off, these bees are smarter than your average bug. They are productive. They are an investment. While they may not be cuddly, they can be a furry addition to your home that won’t pee on your carpet. And what’s more? These little guys are scared to death of people and just want a little box to call home. So do your flowerbed (and allergies) a favor: be kind to the bees!
Kelsey Winchester is a painter and writer hailing from the Ozark Mountain hotspot of Fayetteville, Arkansas. When she isn’t covered in paint, she’s enjoying the trails, tailgating, and live music of her little college town. Find her paintings and read the stories that inspired them at kelseywinchester.com.