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Backyard Beekeeping

Collecting wild honey is one of mankind’s earliest activities, as evidenced by rock paintings dating to around 13,000 BCE.  Aboriginal societies in Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America still practice it.  Honey boosts the immune system and prevents allergies, has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and is absorbed by the body slowly, maintaining normal blood sugar levels. It has unlimited shelf stability when stored at room temperature in a sealed container.  Perfectly preserved honey has even been found sealed inside Egyptian tombs.  Most raw natural honey will crystallize normally.  Honey from large packing operations is flash heated, then filtered to about five microns before being cooled and bottled.  This process removes the natural pollens and the microscopic seed crystals needed for other crystals to grow, not to mention that it destroys natural yeasts and enzymes.

My grandfather kept a beehive to help pollinate his crops in Alberta, Canada.  From just one hive, there was enough honey for their entire household, plus some extra to give to neighbors. Dido would buy a new batch of bees with one queen bee every spring.  He kept about an acre of sweet clover just for those bees.

Pollination by bees is critical to maintaining the variety of crops we all enjoy.  Can you imagine your life without these foods?

Key crops:

 

Cotton, coffee, cocoa, vanilla, beet, canola, safflower, soybean, sunflower, flax, tomato, alfalfa, sesame, and all citrus

Nuts:

Cashew, Brazil nut, chestnut, hazelnut, walnut, macadamia, almond

Vegetables:

Onion, celery, mustard, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, turnip, peas, peppers, coriander, cucumber, squashes, carrot, fennel, eggplant, okra, and all beans

Fruits:

Strawberry, apple, mango, avocado, apricot, peach, nectarine, cherry, plum, pomegranate, pear, raspberry, blackberry, cranberry, blueberry, grape, kiwi, papaya, watermelon, coconut, fig

Colony collapse disorder has been covered in the news of late.  Decimating beehives worldwide, it’s believed caused in part by microscopic mites. You can protect your hives naturally with essential oils of lemon, mint, and thyme, or with food-grade mineral oil, or even powdered sugar.  Many claim that unnatural modern beekeeping methods are to blame.  Trucking bees’ hives around the country, enduring constant stress, spreading pathogens with other bees, and being fed monocultures and high-fructose corn syrup, ultimately renders them vulnerable to disease.  In response, a movement touting the value of natural, sustainable, organic, small-scale beekeeping is gaining popularity.  The Barefoot Beekeeper is a great place to check out options to traditional beekeeping.  On my grandfather’s farm, after the honey was harvested, he just left everything to nature.

Luckily, urban apiculture (beekeeping) has enjoyed a renaissance in the past decade.  Beekeeping cities now include Paris, New York City, Berlin, London, Tokyo, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C.  Most common strains of bees are gentle enough to keep in a city.  In northern climes, the Carniolan breed is popular.  At warmer altitudes, the Italian bee is preferred.

Relatively few communities in the U.S. outlaw beekeeping.  However, beware of “nuisance laws”:  some communities may limit the number of hives you can keep or require water to be provided for the bees.  Let’s face it — as long as there are nectar and pollen-producing flowers and plants in a city, there will also be bees:  outlawing beekeeping does not make bees go away.  But learning about any legal restrictions before you start keeping bees will benefit you.

Regardless of the law, good beekeepers are conscious not to annoy their neighbors.  A six-foot-high fence or shrubbery is important for most backyard beekeepers because it keeps the bees’ flight path above other people’s heads. Since bees like to fly in a straight path to their hive, a fence raises their flight path, reducing the chance that a bee might accidentally collide with someone nearby.  A fence also promotes an “out of sight, out of mind” situation.  Most people are not overly concerned about the presence of bees in their neighborhood;  however, someone who previously never gave bees a thought might unnecessarily worry once they know a hive is nearby.  For example, your neighbor’s outdoor porch lights should not be in direct view of the hive, as bees can attack lights if disturbed.  A simple fence can solve all of these issues, and also provide important wind protection and shade to the hive.

Provide a water source nearby.  A dripping faucet or container water garden both work well.  Bees that are accustomed to movement around their hive are less likely to be defensive, so consider placing bushes, trees, a flag, wind chimes, or other objects that move in a mild breeze.

Believe it or not, honeybee colonies are amazingly tolerant of disruption.  Colonies are more sensitive when there is a lack of nectar, pollen, or good foraging weather.  The best time to work with bees is toward midday, during greatest flight activity, during a good honey flow.  Don’t cast a shadow on the open hive, as this can trigger a response to a perceived “predator.”  Three apiary tools are essential: smoker, veil, and hive tool. (Some beekeepers are spraying “liquid smoke” as a safer, greener, water-based alternative.)

Some amazing resources are available on the internet, such as detailed hints and tips, inexpensive starter kits, and packages of queens with a few attendants.  Remember to talk to your bees and have fun!

About Green Mom

Fredrica Syren, the author and founder of Green-Mom.com, was born in Sweden. Her mother was a classically trained chef who introduced her to many eclectic flavors and skills at a young age. Her mom’s passion for the outdoors and gardening planted the seed for her own love of nature and healthy eating. She received a degree in journalism and has worked as a print, Internet and broadcasting journalist for many years with big businesses within Europe and the United States. After her mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer and she with pre-cancer, Fredrica changed her career to become a full time yoga teacher and activist. A longtime world traveler, foodie and career woman, she was exposed to many facets of life, but nothing inspired her more than becoming a mom. After her first-born, Fredrica began a food blog focusing on local, seasonal, organic & vegetarian dishes. Years of food blogging developed into the cookbook Yummy in My Tummy, Healthy Cooking for the Whole Family. Upon the arrival of her second child, Fredrica founded Green-Mom.com. Her vision was to establish a site providing insight about gardening, home and personal care, baby & child, and of course food & nutrition. Green-Mom.com hosts many talented writers shedding light on ways to incorporate eco-friendly and nutritious practices for busy families. She is an advocate for organic, local and sustainable businesses. Fredrica hopes to inspire social change through her lifestyle, passion and business. Fredrica lives with her husband James Harker-Syren and their three children in San Diego, CA.

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