Beekeeping can be challenging, but rewarding, says NRV group
Honey bees have been in the spotlight quite a bit in the last year or two due largely to reports of Colony Collapse Disorder. And that’s a good thing. Being in the spotlight, that is, not the occurrence of CCD.
CCD results in hives with an apparently healthy queen and plenty of food, but virtually no bees. Not dead bees, no bees — like they lost their way back home. Also, over the past decade the numbers of Virginia’s feral (wild) honey bees have fallen drastically due to a mite called Varroa Destructor. Varroa mites have also taken their toll on beekeepers’ hives.
Honey bee losses due to CCD and Varroa mites are significant because of the honey bees’ importance to pollination of many of our fruits, vegetables, other crops, trees and flowers. Fewer bees leads to poorer pollination and diminished plant production. Not good. What is good about honey bees being in the spotlight is that people gain an opportunity to learn more about these fascinating creatures.
Beekeepers keep bees for a variety of reasons. Sideline and commercial beekeepers pursue financial gains. Hobbyists –those with just one or a few hives — may want the honey and/or beeswax for personal use or gifts. (Honey and beeswax candles make excellent Christmas gifts!) Other reasons include benefits to fruits and flowers, as well as the challenge and satisfaction of managing hives.
Beekeepers may start out thinking “I’ll just get a hive or two to pollinate my vegetable garden (or apple trees/flower bed/, etc),” not realizing the doors to adventure and excitement they are opening. In early spring after installing a package or two of mail-order bees, their population grows dramatically. They bring in nectar and pollen and soon build honey stores. They largely ignore human and pet traffic, and even tolerate intrusions into the hive surprisingly well. The occasional sting is usually the beekeeper’s fault (handling the bees too roughly, inadvertently pinning a bee between fingers, etc.), and there are easy ways to drastically reduce the likelihood of stings.
Beekeepers occasionally make some pretty stupid decisions in trying to manage their bees, and the bees generally still flourish. And that’s a good thing. The bees flourishing, that is, not the stupid part.
All the bees really need is a decent location, a dry home and access to nectar, pollen and water. What if you don’t have lots of fruit trees or flowers handy? No problem, the bees will travel a long way to find what they need. Big city-dwellers have been known to raise bees on the roof of a high-rise building! What if your neighbors complain? Give your bees some water to keep them out of the neighbor’s pool or bird bath, and perhaps plant a hedge so the bees’ flight path is well above your neighbor’s sidewalk. Also, it’s amazing how sharing honey can dissolve a neighbor’s reservations about having honey bees nearby (plus, your neighbor’s flowers and vegetables benefit, too!).
Keeping bees is not like raising a pet. Beekeepers don’t train bees; if anything, it’s the other way around. The challenge is to learn what your bees are telling you with their behavior so you can help them maximize their numbers and honey production. Since bees have been producing surplus honey since, well, forever, they’re pretty tolerant of both our well-guided and misguided efforts. There are several local beekeeping associations (check the Web) to aid beginning beekeepers, and most beekeepers love to share experiences to help initiates get off to a good start. Also, beekeeping associations generally offer beginner classes, have lots of how-to books and videos in their libraries, and loan honey-extracting equipment to members, thereby saving considerable individual expense when it comes time to harvest that golden “food of the gods.” Beekeeping can be challenging, occasionally frustrating and immensely rewarding. And that’s a good thing.
Members of the New River Valley Beekeepers’ Association will present a Beginning Beekeeper’s Course at 220 Price Hall on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg on Feb. 2 and April 6.
The course covers everything a beginner needs to know to start keeping honey bees, and lasts two Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The first class will enable students to learn how to acquire honey bees and equipment in time to get them for use this spring. The second class (shortly before purchased bees will arrive) will include how to handle and care for honey bees along with hands-on time in an apiary.
The cost is $55 for the first member of a family and $25 for each additional member (with a single set of books/handouts). Those interested can sign-up and/or view a syllabus on-line at www.nrvba.org. Preregistration is required by Jan. 21. For more information, contact Jerry Borger at 382-1798.
– Submitted by Jerry Borger, New River Valley Beekeepers’ Association
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