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?
Cotton, coffee, cocoa, vanilla, beet, canola, safflower, soybean, sunflower, flax, tomato, alfalfa, sesame, and all citrus
Cashew, Brazil nut, chestnut, hazelnut, walnut, macadamia, almond
Onion, celery, mustard, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, turnip, peas, peppers, coriander, cucumber, squashes, carrot, fennel, eggplant, okra, and all beans
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!