I went for a walk today – down the hill through the woods, through the meadow, and around the pond. The air is like perfume with the scent of honeysuckle and blackberry flowers – freshly washed from the 10 or so inches of rain we’ve had in the last 2 weeks – birds singing, squirrels doing squirrel things, horses grazing in the meadow. It’s a beautiful spring day, but one thing was missing – honey bees. I didn’t see a single one.
That’s all about to change. Back in January I placed an order for a 3 pound package of bees which are due to come in the mail (I bet the mail man loves that!) any day now. That’s about 10,000 girls to do all the work (as usual), and one queen to lay all the eggs – when the drones emerge they’ll pretty much just hang out and chase the young queens (like college boys in insect form). With any luck my colony will thrive and increase, and eventually I’ll be able to split it into several hives which will produce honey and pollinate not only my garden, but every garden within almost a mile. Ive been reading, studying and building bee hives for most of a year now to prepare for that package of bees to arrive in the mail. It’s like I’m 8 and it’s Dec 24th.
When I was a kid (not all that long ago) honeybees were everywhere – in all the flowers and working the clover in the yard. They were an integral part of being outdoors. Not so anymore. Honeybees are having a hard time, and even the experts don’t know exactly what the problem is.
Colony Collapse Disorder is what they’ve started calling it when a whole hive of bees just disappears for no particular reason – some bee keepers have lost 1/3 of their colonies in a single year to CCD. Bees have always been known to “abscond” when their nest developed a persistent problem – invading ants, raiding skunks, neighbors with loud music – that sort of thing, but CCD is different. CCD might be caused by a combination of things – exotic mites and diseases, rampant use of petrochemical poisons, cell phones, global warming, deficit spending – It’s hard telling what all. But the effect is that bees are experiencing a failure to thrive both in domestication and in the wild, and you just don’t see nearly as many as you used to.
You might have noticed in your garden things like cucumbers that only develop on one end, or healthy squash vines that don’t seem to produce like they should. These are symptoms of inadequate pollination. Farmers of certain crops must have plenty of honey bees to make a profit – so they hire commercial bee keepers to bring them in. The bees just can’t be done without.
So, now that it’s harder than ever to successfully keep bees why would I want to start? Several reasons actually:
- Backyard beekeepers can be part of the solution by acting as a kind reservoir – domestic bees “escape” into the wild as a matter of course, and also mate with wild bees – for better or worse. Also, as I mentioned – One hive of bees can help with pollination for a large area.
- Some hobby beekeepers seem to be making real progress in overcoming the problems by using natural methods and breeding – I would like to be a part of that. Commercial beekeepers are having enough problems just trying to make a living without experimenting with organics, so that is probably going to be left almost entirely to hobbyists and dedicated small operations.
- Almost all commercial bees are treated with various chemicals and medications which almost certainly contaminates both the honey and the wax – I plan to avoid all that. I like the idea of feeding my Grand Children sustainably produced clean honey.
- It’s a hobby with the potential to make a little bit of money, instead of costing a bunch of it. I’m envisioning a future where that might be a good thing.
- Honey bees don’t make noise, don’t have to be tended while you go on vacation, and help encourage your good for nothin’ neighbors to stay away from your stuff. What’s not to like?
For now, I’ve got nothing to show you, but assuming the post office doesn’t lose my bees I will in a couple of days. In the mean time, please be kind and try not to poison the birds, bees and other wildlife (and yourself) with nasty chemicals – go organic for all of us.
Here’s a link to a great place to learn about chemical free bee keeping.