My Thoughts About Bee Keeping and Honey

We started our bee keeping ventures in 2013 and to date it has been the most frustrating farming activity we do. Hive losses are heartbreaking and we have had many. Probably our worst experience was when the bees we ordered did not even make it to our farm alive. You can read about that here. If you read that article you may understand when I say that bee keeping is also one of the most thrilling and rewarding activities that we do. Capturing swarms, observing the bees while they forage and pollenate our crops, harvesting honey and wax all make this so.

As with everything we do our bee keeping efforts are done on a small scale. We often use the word boutique to describe our farm. Since we started bee keeping we have maintained at least one hive and at times had as many as seven hives. Each year we have harvested honey and for the last 4 or so years we have harvested and processed our own wax as well. If you are interested in learning how I filter bees wax you can  read about that here.

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Beekeeping has given me a whole new understanding and appreciation of honey. Most of my life I have used store bought honey and never thought much about it. The color and flavor were pretty consistent. Honey was just honey. It wasn’t until we started harvesting our own honey that I realized that honey is not just honey. In fact we have yet to have any two honey harvests where the honey tasted the same.

When people find out that we are beekeepers they often have many questions. Below are some of the points I make when talking about bees and honey.

  • Each honey harvest is (should be) a wonderfully, unique blend of nectars and pollen from various plants that have been in season.
  • The color and flavor of honey should vary between harvests.
  • Mono cropping, the practice of moving bee hives to a particular location where a specific crop is in blossom in order for the bees to pollinate that crop, may be detrimental to bee health. (how well would you fare if you only ate one food for the majority of your life?)
  • Feeding bees sugar syrup is probably not good for the bees.
  • Local honey may or may not be effective as a treatment for allergies depending on what the bees were foraging to make their honey.
  • In the U.S. honey suppliers are required to put their address on the honey label. Buying honey that has a local address does not necessarily mean you are buying honey that was produced locally.
  • Raw honey is honey that has not been heated above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Honey can be stored at room temperature and has an indefinite shelf life.
  • Honey might crystalize but it is still good.
  • Honey that has crystalized can be turned into liquid again by slowly heating the jar in a pan of water. Do not microwave!
  • Because the honey may crystalize and you may want to heat it to make it liquid again do not buy honey in plastic bottles.

Do you have any questions or thoughts about honey bees or honey? Leave me a comment and I will be sure to get back to you.

Thanks for reading and have a great day! 🙂

 

 

 

23 thoughts on “My Thoughts About Bee Keeping and Honey

  1. Interesting, thank you. There is a “wild” hive that has been on our farm for over fifty years according to the previous owners. The bees have been so successful we have hesitated to bother them. We will be educating ourselves on how to help them continue to thrive. To do list!

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    1. That is awesome! Hives surviving in the wild seem to be rare. So much of their habitat has been destroyed. Hopefully the hive is in a tree that has strong roots and a sturdy trunk to provide their housing for years to come. I would think their other needs would be plenty of plants to forage throughout spring, summer, and fall. We leave our field to grow up in wild flowers, some might think of as weeds. We also plant some things specifically for the bees ( many herbs, sunflowers and buckwheat). Making sure there is a near by water source especially in times of drought, and avoiding pesticide use as much as possible.

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      1. We also have a field soy beans or corn near by and a neighbor who sprays the ditches with herbicide to kill the weeds. He was offended when my husband told him not to spry our ditch. We hope by having enough on our farm (7.6 acres) for the bees to forage that they do not need to go to the soy beans or corn. I have also read that soy beans don’t offer a lot of pollen and nectar to bees so they would it would probably be a crop of last resort. I think corn would also be a last choice.
        I love walking the farm and seeing what the bees are foraging – it’s a big reason we don’t totally hate Canadian thistle -LOL.

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      2. I mostly worry about overspray. Conversely, dear farmers are worried about the mean ole weeds invading their crop. I saw a cute sign by some unmowed country roadside with a sign “Bee Habitat, Do Not Mow.”

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      3. Thankfully the farmer near us tends to spray when it is not windy (at least that we have noticed).
        Those mean weeds seem to becoming meaner as this years soy bean field has a lot of weeds despite the spraying.
        I love the sign.

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  2. When I was a kid, one summer we had a swarm of bees invade the partition between two parts of the old farmhouse on the homeplace…..they stayed in there for a few years and if you went up into attic you could sometimes see the honey dripping down the partition wall. I guess they must have considered it as safe place to live, but my parents didn’t know how to get them out, or who to hire who could. While they clustered near the top of the house, they left us alone, but they pestered our old collie lassie dog – he continuously had bee bites on his nose. One day, they just left, as suddenly as they had come.. I have not seen as many bees this summer, which may explain why my wonderful row of blue morning glories does not have one single flower on it!

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    1. Interesting story – thanks for sharing. I wonder what made them just up a leave. Poor Lassie – our dogs tend to bite at a bee when it is buzzing around them – no wonder they get stung. They have learned to avoid the area where our hives are though.
      I don’t think that the lack of bees would cause your morning glory not to flower since the flowers would be what would attract bees. It may be too much nitrogen in the soil. You could try adding phosphorous. Several years ago, when my lilacs were not blossoming I spread wood ash around them – they blossomed the next spring and each spring since.

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      1. That’s a good idea. Re morning glories, I didn’t have many hydrangeas this years either, only one or two per bush instead of prolific like last year, but I blamed it on the two weeks of winter he had in April. However, the morning glories weren’t planted until mid-May. Last year they were really really late, so there may be hope if we have a mildish fall.

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  3. That was very interesting Ruth. A friend of a friend on Facebook kept bees for years. Last year her husband died and he did most of the work, she helped, and she lost many of her bees over the Winter. She was not sure if it was due to the cold weather that North Carolina experienced and she had not prepared the hive properly. When she got everything “set-up” in the Spring, someone stole all her hives etc. and she knew it had to be a person skilled in beekeeping as who else would steal it? I just told this story earlier today as one of the owners at the alpaca farm asked if I wanted to come buy as they were taking the honey off the hive and I asked when is better – what season? He said Summer and Fall were best then wrote me back this morning and said he took the last of the honey off and would be preparing the hives for Winter. So I will do that next Summer. It is hard work – we had a client who used to have bees and made honey as well.

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    1. This past winter in Michigan was bad for bees. We heard that many bee keepers in our area, some who have been doing this for years, lost all of their hives. We lost all but one of ours. Moisture in the hives seemed to be the problem.
      It is sad to think that some one would steal bee hives, but yes it had to be someone who was familiar with bees.
      My husband does most of the work with our bees now but when I have helped I find it kind of surreal to be standing there with 1000’s of bees buzzing around me. It is important to make sure that you are fully protected. No openings in clothing where the bees can get in. We find that in the summer when the bees have plenty to forage they are less protective of their food. In the fall they are more defensive.

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      1. It does sound like a lot of work Ruth and also worries that you won’t get stung. I felt badly for Betty Ann because she fully intended to keep up the beekeeping that was mostly her husband’s project, but she shut it completely down afterward. The message I got yesterday from the beekeeper about the end of the “season” was is below and I do think I will go next year and watch him pull off the honey, but I guess this means I would have to be in protective gear to do so, unless he has me watch from inside the barn where they have their gift shop, and keep the alpacas year ’round?. I guess that is what he would do – he didn’t mention that part of the visit.

        We just pulled off the last of the honey. Now I prepare the bee hives for this winter by first gassing them with ocilic acid gas to kill any Varroa mites then place beatle traps in the hive then load up their feeder with bee pro vitiman supplement then size up their winter doors and winter ventilation and they’re all done for 3 weeks then open the hive check food and inner hive conditions close em up check ventilation and let them slumber til January thaw and repeat . And if all goes perfect I have bees for spring if not i order more for spring if that’s the case the hive will have to be gone through and striped and made ready for its new residence .
        All this time and money to replicate a hole in a tree so bees will be happy
        Lol

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  4. Thanks for this. When I was young, I was terrified of bees but then I got older and realized that it was actually wasps that I was afraid of. I’m not scared of any of them anymore but I have a tremendous respect for bees and the people who work with them!

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    1. You’re welcome. Honey bees are not aggressive unless they feel threatened. Part of their job is to protect their hive, their food and the queen. It is a bad idea to approach a hive unprotected, but bees who are out foraging are not a threat. You would probably have to step on them (with a bare foot) or sit on them to get stung. When a honey bee stings it then dies, so it would not make sense for them to sting unnecessarily. Thank you for your comment.

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