My parents have had a beehive for about 3 years now. This past month when we were visiting Utah we got to watch them harvest the honey! They ended up getting about 40 lbs of honey this year! After watching the process I realized why raw natural honey is so expensive. It is A LOT of work to harvest the honey, let alone keep the bees happy and producing all year! It was such a neat experience for my kids to see and myself. I received a lot of questions as I was sharing videos of the process on Instagram. So I asked my parents all of your most common questions on Bee Keeping. I learned a lot too.
So many analogies to life with the Bee Colony. Not every bee is doing the same thing, as it may appear. The Queen (aka mom) is the only one who lays the eggs. So can mom be busy doing everything else? No! She can’t do it all. Someone is there to take care of mom, someone is there to gather the honey, someone is there to clean up (house keepers…I wish!). My mom said “the point is- every bee has work together by doing their job. Same is true in a home, when that doesn’t happen it weakens the hive (aka the home).”
Aren’t bees amazing??
All of this information answered my question if WE would want bee’s. Read to the end to see my thoughts. And also a video from our bee keeping experience with my lovely parents.
Bees are amongst the most important creatures to humans on Earth! These amazing insects pollinate over 80% of all flowering plants including 70 of the top 100 human food crops. One in three bites of food that we eat is derived from plants pollinated by bees. I shared some ways we can help save the bees at the end of my post and why having a beehive is a good thing!
Most asked Questions on Bee Keeping-
Q- How did you get started with Bee Keeping?
A- They had chickens so doesn’t that answer it? Really tho it seems to be a natural transition. They had a friend who said he wanted to get bee’s and wanted to do it together. So it was an easy yes! They took classes put on by The Bee Association once a month (free classes). My dad watches youtube videos a lot…like A LOT! And reads bee keeping books.
Q- Where do you get bees to start with?
A- You can get bees in the spring. They placed their order in March at a local shop- Jones Bees in Utah. And picked them up in the spring. Best to find a local shop. It cost them about $200 total to get started. $130 for about 3 lbs of bees (about 20k bees) and one queen bee.
Q- Do you ever get stung and how often to you get stung?
A- The first year they wore the entire bee suit. Now my dad says it is too much work to put on the bee suit and it gets pretty hot. My mom has been stung once, it went down her shirt and she went running and flung her shirt off (thankfully it was in their backyard she said). My dad gets stung every so often. He likes to just wear the helmet mostly so they don’t come at his face. If you get stung once it puts off a fermone and the bee’s smell it and get more aggravated. You start to recognize when the bees are aggressive too, their behavior (he thinks he is the bee whisperer and I can see it!). Later in the day the bee’s are more aggressive. The Bee’s come home at night (at sunset) so more bees are in the hive….like when all the kids get home! Below is a photo of the first year when my parents had bees.
Q- What does the Queen Bee do?
The queen is the only bee to lay the eggs. Every bee has a different task! Some tend to the eggs, some get pollen, some tend to the queen every bee has a job. That is where the saying comes “busy as a bee!” Below is a photo my dad took of the queen bee!
Q- What happens if the Queen Bee dies?
A- First I will answer how you would know the queen has died. You would notice on the trays there are no eggs being laid. If the queen bee dies there won’t be new eggs in the cell. If there are eggs left in the cell the other bees can turn one of the eggs into a queen by feeding her “royal jelly”. You have to check each tray often to see if a queen bee was created, you can tell if a queen is created because she sticks out of the tray a little longer than the rest of the bee’s. If you don’t see a new queen in creating new eggs or you don’t see her about 21 days then that is when you buy a new one for $36.
Q- Is bee keeping and expensive hobby?
A- Initial investment is $400. If you can not get the bee’s to last thru the winter you have to spend another $140 to get your bees again the following year. IF you can get them to last thru the winter you get way more honey- almost double because they start working sooner. Best to protect the hive in the winter because the bees keep the hive about 50 degrees. So this year my dad is going to wrap the hives with insulation like his friend did (with success) to keep the bees alive. There are low maintaining costs like sumpliments and sugar water.
As far as harvesting the honey- Their friend bought a spinner off of a local page. My dad made his own spinner one year. The spinner spins the trays and the honey falls to the bottom and then you get the honey from the bottom of the spinner. Or you can find a local place to take your honey trays into and they will harvest it. Harvesting containers are about $1 each so they spent $40 for 40 lbs of honey on containers.
Q- Is it safe to keep bee’s on a property with small children?
A- They haven’t had issues with kids. We really don’t notice the bees around at all when were are in their yard. The hives are in a corner and they live on about .35 acres. Honey bee’s are actually a gentle insect.
Q- How far should a beehive be away from your home?
Check your city ordinances. It is more about the size of land you have.
Q- Do you have a lot of flowers on your property to make bees happy?
A- They planted a lot wildflowers around their hive and “pollinators” plants that are good for bees.
Q- How much time a week does it take to have a hive?
Maybe an hour or two a week. Just with checking the hive. You add sugar water in the beginning and after you harvest the honey. They also have to have a water source, a bird feeder he fills up so the bees have water. One year they got varroa mites- like a tick got on the bees. There isn’t a way to avoid this. But you can treat them. There is a white tray that pulls out on the bottom of the beehive that he pulls that out to see if there are any varroa mites. He pulls out the tray and looks with a magnifying glass once a week. They put asolic acid on the tray to kill the mites if they happen to find them. You do this as a preventative measure. He did it one time in four months.
Q- How often do you harvest honey?
A- Just once a year
Q- Best tips for preventing swarms?
A- They swarm when there are too many bees in a hive. You wold notice by checking your trays to see there are queen cells (sticking out). My dad has tried to split his beehive because he had a swarm and put in a second hive by purchasing a new queen for $40 but the bees did not accept her and killed her.
Q- Do the Bee’s keep producing honey after you harvest?
A- The bee’s keep producing honey once you have harvested. You leave some honey on the trays for the bee’s to feed on and add some sugar water to get them working again after the honey is harvested.
Q- Is it as difficult as it seems?
A- They have had bees three years and it gets easier every year. Don’t give up! It can be depressing when you don’t get honey one year. The first year the honey was too thin and crystallized. They realized they fed the bees too much honey water. They kept at it because they knew the next year they wouldn’t do that again. The best tip they have is to do it with a friend and find a local bee community.
Q- Is there any “cruelty” involved with “stealing” the hard working honey?
A- No. That is what the honey is for. You do leave honey for the bees to live on thru the summer and can feed then sugar water to get them producing after you harvest the honey. A healthy bee colony produces more honey then the bee’s need to eat thru the winter. Starting a beehive and harvesting the honey is helping our ecosystem.
Q- Can I just keep bees just to benefit the environment and ecosystem and not harvest the honey?
A- The bees run out of space to lay eggs because they start filling the cells with honey. So this is not good for the bees or the ecosystem. Below are other ways to help you want to save the bee’s and not start your own hive.
What we can do if we don’t want a beehive but want to help save the bee’s?
You might not be aware but Honeybees are dying off from a number of reasons which are classified under (CCD) Colony Collapse Disorder. I have heard that if you save the bees you save your children. Honeybees are vital to the pollination of more than one-third of all the crops we eat. If we allow them to become extinct, your children or their children may never have the opportunity to eat and receive the health benefits from over 90 crops!!
What we can do-
- Plant a pollinator friendly garden patch of any size Switching from pesticides to organic alternatives. You can look up some simple alternatives online such as vinegar and water to use as a weed killer if necessary.
- Provide a water source such as a shallow bird bath with rocks in it.
- If you see a swarm or have a colony of bees which has taken up residence in an unwanted area contact us or a local beekeeper for removal.
These are things I am looking to do since I don’t know if I am ready for a beehive…yet!
My parents got about 40 lbs of honey this year! They gave some away to our little family! My mom made some of her Famous Artisan Bread (easiest and tastiest bread ever!). Find recipe HERE.
Bee Harvesting Video-