What Goes Into Beekeeping? Bees, Honey, And The Workings Of A Hive
Let's talk about bees and the sweet, sticky substance they produce – honey.
A single pound of honey would require a honey bee to fly three times around the globe – approximately 90,000 miles. This, however, is far too much for a single honey bee to do. Within its lifetime, the average worker bee produces only about a one-twelfth teaspoon of honey.
Thankfully, beekeeping hives may contain anywhere from 10,000 to 60,000 bees and produce anywhere from 20 to 60 pounds of organic honey per year.
Americans seem to be crazy over this sugary substance. An average of 1.3 pounds of honey are consumed per person per year.
And what is honey, exactly?
Chemically speaking, it is an acid, typically ranging in pH from 3.2 to 4.5. This is what gives it anti-bacterial properties. In terms of production, honey is the final product regurgitated by bees, as a result of the enzymatic process done to flower nectar collected in a bee’s honey crop.
What Makes A Hive Run?
Hives rely on bee pollen – a condensed pellet of flower pollen collected by worker bees – as a primary source of food. Contained within one pellet is over 2 million grains of flower pollen. Some beekeepers sell these pellets (of bee pollen) for human consumption – perhaps for its nutritional value or for bee pollen supplements – by accumulating the grains attached to bees as they re-enter their hives with small pollen traps.
When it comes to the raising of bees, secretions from bees’ heads, or pure royal jelly – protein, sugar, vitamins, minerals – is fed to larvae in their first days, before development into worker bees. When it comes specifically to the raising of the queen bee, royal jelly will be fed to the larvae continuously until it develops into a reproductive female of the hive, later moving on to lay approximately 1,500 eggs per day.
The typical worker bee, on the other hand, is female and performs different tasks throughout its lifetime. As a young bee, it builds structures within the hive and cares for larvae. Only after a few weeks does it move onto flight and leaving the hive for the outside. The oldest bees take on these outside tasks, including the collection of pollen and nectar, as they are the most dangerous.
The last and least common type of bee is the drone, the only male bees of a hive, typically with larger eyes, larger wings, and boxier torsos than their worker bee counterparts. Their sole purpose to mate with other queen bees, which is important for genetic diversity.
The Beekeeping Kit
Beekeeping equipment involves, first and foremost, protective tools, which include a beekeeper hat (or jackets with veils) and beekeeping gloves, in order to prevent stings, aggressive responses from bees.
Other beekeeping tools may include a bee brush and a smoker. The brush may be useful for gently moving or pushing away bees from areas you need clear. Smokers are useful for making aggressive bees docile. The smoke covers up the scent of alarm pheromones produced by hive guards, reducing defensive reactions to a keeper, and most significantly, the smoke tricks bees into thinking there is a nearby wildfire. In anticipation of a move, bees fill themselves up with honey, which makes it anatomically difficult to sting. Thus, they are more docile.
Lastly and likely most importantly is the hive tool, which is used to cut into propolis, the adhesive that binds hives together, and to remove honeycombs.
Beekeeping For Beginners
Luckily, beekeeping basics are not too difficult to grasp. As long as you have an idea of how hives work, what types of bees play which roles within a nest, and what tools are necessary, the maintenance of a hive (or hives) becomes less daunting of a task.
Not only can raw honey be produced, consumed, and/or sold from this hobby, but also fermented honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, honey stix, honey candy, and honey vinegar, amongst others.