If you like to eat, you can thank a bee. Whether it grows out of the ground or from a tree, many of the fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains that keep us strong and healthy rely on bees to reproduce. In addition, bees produce honey, one of the healthiest and most natural sweeteners on the planet.
Because bees are so beneficial to humans, beekeeping has become one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world. More and more people are setting up hives in their backyards, or even on fire escapes and rooftops in urban settings, to take advantage of honey, beeswax, royal jelly, or even just for a little help with their home gardens.
Some people profit from these products, or from renting out their hives to pollinate farmers’ fields, while others do it just for personal use. As bee populations in North America and elsewhere decline due to a combination of factors from parasites to pesticides, many are starting hives as a way to save these important insects from extinction. Your level of involvement depends on how many bees you’d like to keep, and how much time you plan to spend on them.
People have been keeping bees domestically for thousands of years, and though the practices have changed drastically in that time, keeping bees is still a fairly simple, low-tech hobby.
The basic tools are protective clothing (to keep from getting stung), one or more hives (usually a specially designed wooden box), a smoker to calm the bees, and a few tools for extracting honey, beeswax, and other valuable products from your hive.
You’ll need to purchase this equipment — and the bees, themselves — from a specialty beekeeping supply store. The staff at these stores are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about teaching their hobby to others. Don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions. These people, along with any other beekeepers you may find in your area, will be you greatest resource. There are also numerous books on the subject you can consult to help you get started. Just check your local library or bookstore.
A basic hive set-up requires only a few hours of attention each week, for harvesting honey, checking on the health of your colony, and doing any necessary maintenance on your hive structure.
Depending on the size and number of your hives, beekeeping need not take up a lot of room. A sheltered corner of a suburban backyard is more than enough space for a small set-up. A small decorative water garden will ensure that your bees have plenty of fresh drinking water if you don’t live near a pond or other natural source. A bee garden, featuring a variety of feeder plants, makes a nice complement to a hive, but is not truly necessary. Bees will travel over several miles to find a good food source.
Of course, beekeepers living in the city or suburbs need to take a few extra precautions to ensure that their bees don’t become a nuisance. Building a six foot fence next to your hive will keep their flight path above most people’s heads to minimize incidental collisions, and will also protect the bees from drafts.
With a few precautions, though, beekeeping can be a rewarding hobby for people of all ages, and from all walks of life.