If you want to make sure there are plenty of honey bees around to pollinate your garden, consider beekeeping.
Philip Barr recently presented a workshop on beekeeping for Buffalo ReUse.
“I got into beekeeping because I wanted more vegetables,” he said.
Bees are important pollinators, but a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder has reduced the number of honey bees. No one knows why this is happening, but Barr thinks traditional beekeeping practices might be overtaxing bees and contributing to their demise.
Barr uses practices that are gentler on the bees. For example, bees store honey to eat over the winter, so he waits until spring to harvest honey and wax.
Gardeners might like the idea of encouraging honey bees to pollinate their gardens, and the prospect of harvesting honey and wax is a nice bonus. But understandably, they may be concerned about getting stung by bees.
There are ways to manage bees to reduce the risk of getting stung, Barr explained. At right, you can see the round exit holes for the bees on the front of the hive. When Barr needs to open the hive, he works from the side or rear, as he demonstrates in the photo.
When working with bees, it’s a good idea to avoid wearing perfume, cologne or lotions, especially those with fruity scents, because bees register those scents as an alarm, he said.
The ideal weather for managing a hive is sunny and warm with high pressure and no breeze.
A beekeeper can use a smoker to calm the bees. The smoke fools the bees into thinking the hive is burning down, so they gorge on honey. They become fat and lazy, and with their bellies engorged, they can’t really sting, Barr said.
However, it’s not necessary to use a smoker or wear special clothing. During the workshop, Barr took out a honey comb to show the participants. He opened the hive in steps, and if he disturbed the bees, he simply waited until they calmed down.
Slowly, he lifted out a honey comb. Participants were able to poke their finger into a cell to taste the wonderful honey– all while bees were still on the comb. At left, Michele Pava of Buffalo gets a close look while Keri Thomas-Whiteside of Buffalo waits for a turn.
Patience is perhaps the most important thing when managing a hive, judging from the workshop, which was held on a chilly, damp and breezy day.
“All the conditions were wrong today,” Barr pointed out, “and nobody got stung.”
You’ll notice that the honey in the photo is red. The plants that the bees happen to visit will give the honey a unique color and taste.
If you’re considering beekeeping, you have several months to prepare; spring is the time to start a hive. If you order bees online, you can do that in January, but the bees you’ll get come from the south and may not be as hardy here.
It’s best if you can find a local swarm. Bees swarm when they run out of room and need to form a new colony. If you are lucky enough to see them at this point, they would look like a big ball of bees hanging from a branch, Barr said.
“This is when they’re most docile,” he said. “They’re full of honey, and they have nothing to defend.” You can cut the branch off and put the bees, branch and all, into a box to take to your hive.
Barr is available to answer beekeeping questions. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.