Thursday, March 31, 2016

Episode 51 Beekeeping


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Honeybees may be an excellent addition to your homestead. They produce a harvest both directly and indirectly. We are going to go through the basics of beekeeping.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, honeybees contribute $14 billion to the US crop production. Several crops are highly dependent on the honeybee for pollination. 90% of the pollination of blueberries and cherries occur as a result of honeybees and 100% of the almond pollination is a direct result of these wonderful little workers.

Honeybees are not native to the United States, but then neither are most of us. There are native pollinators like certain types of wasps, insects, and carpenter bees, but taking care of the honeybees is well worth the effort.

Honeybee Production and Benefits

First I want to say that the very year we put bees on our little homestead we saw a 30% increase in the production of our garden.

Honey - honey doesn't just taste great on a buttered biscuit, it is also very useful. Honey can be used in making soaps and can even help heal minor cuts and scrapes.

Wax - Wax can either be harvested or fed back to your bees. Wax can be used to make homemade candles, balms, salves, and if melted and mixed with boiled linseed oil makes a very good coating for metal to prevent rust and for wooden handles of your tools.

Pollen - Pollen is used in several herbal remedies. You can read some of the benefits here.

The Hive

We will be talking about 3 styles of hives, the function, and a little on the benefits of each.
Langstroth - this is the hive everyone pictures in their mind when someone talks about beekeeping.
Image result for l langstroth
The langstroth yields the greatest amount of honey of the three types, with little to no wax yields. The reason for this is the langstroth has honey frames that contain a wax base. This base allows the bees to spend more time making honey and less time making wax. Special equipment is normally used for the honey extraction. We will get there, I promise.

Warre - The warre hive looks a lot like the langstroth on the outside. On the inside it is quite different. The warre has bars on the top of each section, but no wax frame. The bees conduct themselves in a more natural way, because they have to do all of the interior "construction" themselves. This reduces honey yield and increases wax yield. Annual honey yield can be reduced by as much as 50%.

In the langstroth when new boxes need to be added which in their case are called supers, they are added to the top of the hive. In the Warre configuration additional boxes are added to the bottom.

Top bar hive - The top bar hive is the easiest of the three types to make yourself. I has the lowest honey yield and the highest wax yield of the three.

Gear

You can get by with a limited amount of gear. The bare minimums are a bee suit, bee hood, smoker, and hive tool.

Bee Pests and Problems

There are several challenges that our honeybees face. Most of these challenges are dealt with fairly well by strong, healthy hives, but sometimes we have to go to the rescue of our hives. Here are some of the bad guys when it comes to bees.

Varroa mites
Small Hive Beetle
Foulbrood
Tracheal mites
Wax moths
Rodents
Colony collapse disorder.

Only two of these cannot be treated successfully. If it is found that a hive has foulbrood, that hive must be destroyed. There are steps that can be taken that have been shown to prevent foulbrood, but there is no cure.

Colony collapse disorder is still a bit of a mystery. According to a study by Harvard the most likely cause is pesticides. Of course the chemical companies have come out swinging to try to prove that it is not their products that is causing the problems. It is my opinion that this just strengthens the importance of organic practices.

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