Monday, September 29, 2008

on bees

Kathleen, who hails from Lancaster, PA commented in an earlier post with a question about bees. She asked about my philosophy on why I have them and my relationship to them. She said she went to a local beekeepers' meeting and the other members seemed to be more interested in beewatching then keeping, and she wasn't thrilled with the idea of spending an inordinate amount of time with bees but still wanted to have them for honey and wax.

Well, Kathleen, my sentiments are exactly like your own. I am not a bee-coddler. I set them up, give them what they need to be healthy, and then let them do their thing. I come from the Gene Logsdon school of beekeeping (which is basically the "leave them alone because they know what they are doing and you're a schmuck in a white clown suit" school.) While they constantly amaze me with their world and society - I observe them from a distance. My only interaction with them is the occasional check-in to make sure they aren't dead or infested and when I am either adding layers to their hive or collecting honey. We keep a distance. It's working out.

Don't get me wrong. I like bees and enjoy beekeeping. Putting on those giant canvas gloves and walking out with a loaded smoker has evolved from an effort of tempered anxiety to one of rural nobility. But even as someone without allergies and used to them - I don't think I'll ever be relaxed in a swarm of bees. They just aren't animals I feel comfortable with. Put me in a pen with teeth, hooves, horns, and paws and I'm fine - elated even. I'd take a barn full of angry Shetland Rams over a barn full of bees any day.

With that said, I still would never go without a hive. Bees are wonderful to have around. They help the garden, they entertain the chickens, and they seem weirdly exotic compared to the sheep and poultry. The most work they entail is just assembling the hive and installing the colony. Something I used to dread but this year I did this with not only my own hive, but a friends as well, and it went fine. I only average one sting a year, and usually when I get too lazy to bring a smoker along (actually, it's always when I'm too lazy to bring the smoker along...)

So would I encourage beekeeping? Hell yeah. It's the cheapest, easiest livestock you can have. They are ridiculously simple to keep and the rewards for having them far outweigh my annual sting. If you have two spare hours next spring and enough cash to buy an iphone - you have all it takes to get started on the path to becoming a fine beekeeper. Beekeeping suppliers like Dadant sell beginner hobby kits for under 150 that supply all you need (minus the bees and queen - which you order overnight via UPS for around 60.00) Just find a club in your area to help you get started and hopefully, if enough of us keep it up, we'll help out the declining populations and reverse some of this scary business we've all been reading about.

7 Comments:

Blogger Kathleen Stoltzfus said...

Thanks, Jenna. Good to know I don't have to get so involved in their daily lives. Where is a good place to order bees from?

September 29, 2008 at 10:47 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I'd go here if I were in PA.

http://www.draperbee.com/

I used them for my first hive in Idaho, and I bet you could pick them up too, save on shipping

September 29, 2008 at 10:49 AM  
Blogger E said...

Having had bees for several years I beg to differ it takes more than: "if you have two spare hours next spring and enough cash to buy an iphone - you have all it takes to be a fine beekeeper" to become a fine beekeeper.

Like all animals they need care and are a responsibility. If they swarm your neighbors will probably want you to come get them. It takes time and skill to assure that they thrive and are healthy. You also need to think the whole process through. Where will you get new queens? Where will you store beekeeping supplies? How will you extract the honey? What do bee diseases look like where you are?

Apprentice/practice first with an experienced beekeeper - then get your own bees.

They are lovely!

September 29, 2008 at 5:08 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

e's right that beekeeping as a hobby does require effort and research. But what I want to stress is to get started in bees, you really don't need more than a few hours and few hundred bucks. Yes, you need to be informed, keep an eye on things, and god forbid they swarm, retrieve them.

But compared to other farm animals, they certaily reuire less time, money, space and effort. I spend as much time a year on bees as I spend a month on chickens.

I didn't mean to make light of bees, but explain my take on them, which is at arm's length. Perhaps I should change it to say, "if you have two spare hours next spring and enough cash to buy an iphone - you have all it takes to get started on your way to becoming a fine beekeeper" fair?

September 29, 2008 at 7:36 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

I've come to the conclusion that the smoker isn't really to calm the bees down. It's to calm the beekeeper down. If you love a campfire, the smoker will instill in you a sense of serene calm. ;)

While I do find them terribly fascinating, I too spend only a minimal amount of time with the bees. It seems to me they're probably happier that way.

September 29, 2008 at 8:52 PM  
Blogger E said...

Arm's length with an inquisitive, attentive mind and spirit, perhaps?

This category of farm animals could include bees, chickens, ducks, cats, sheep, cattle depending on your and their personalities.

While horses, milk cows, dogs and cats (again!) would fall into category of more love and attention needed.

Goats I don't know...

September 30, 2008 at 12:38 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

And how the honey harvest came this year ?

November 13, 2008 at 4:59 PM  

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