A lot of attention has been given to bees and pollinators as awareness of pollinator decline has spread. Because of this, you may have considered keeping bees yourself. Adding bees to your homestead and farm operation—whether they’re introduced honeybees (Apis mellifera) or any number of bees native to your area of the country—can play an important role in food production and your land’s ecological diversity. Whether you decide to start a hive for honey production or cultivate natural habitats for native pollinators, you’re providing a great benefit to your farm and pollinator populations at large. If you’re on the fence about keeping bees, here are a few reasons you should give it a try.
1. To Increase Pollinator Diversity
Honeybees are the cover girls of the save-the-bees movement, but keeping bees doesn’t solely mean tending a beehive. Native pollinators, including native bees, butterflies and native birds, are at risk for many of the same problems honeybees are, and you can jumpstart your foray into beekeeping by cultivating habitats for these groups. By simply planting native flowers and providing pollinator habitats, you’re inviting bees to your land—and you’ll surely reap the benefits.
As part of your decision to keep bees, think about their needs. Native bees and the domesticated honeybee pollinate different types of plants. By keeping hives or bee boxes, you provide your crops with a diversity of pollinating insects to assist in the process. With a multitude of diverse pollinators to get the job done, your crops have the potential to produce yields like never before.
2. To Teach Others
The possibilities for pollinator awareness are endless when you keep your own hive or manage a series of bee houses. Most importantly, education starts with you.
As you embark on keeping bees, you’ll read many books, attend beekeeper meetings, get connected with a mentor in your community and perhaps even join a beekeeping club. Although you may have the basics under your belt after a few seasons, learning opportunities never end when in the company of bees. Seasoned beekeepers in my county beekeeping club—many of whom have spent 30 years in the beekeeping world—are constantly learning something new each year.
If your farm hosts tours, operates summer camps or has another educational component to it, keeping bees on the property can be a valuable way to engage your guests and share your knowledge with a captive audience. You can use the bees as a platform to educate them about important farming issues, such as the damaging use of pesticides, the need to plant natives and wildflowers, and the importance of creating bee, bird and bat habitats.
3. To Boost Your Health
Raw honey has some amazing reported health and healing benefits, from combating allergies to healing burns, but honeybees produce other products that humans have used for their own health and healing for centuries.
When collected responsibly, pollen can be a holistic remedy for many ailments. It contains more protein per pound than beef, eggs or dairy. It’s a critical source of protein for the hive. For humans, bee pollen can improve immune function, soften the effects of seasonal allergies, aid in digestion and support the cardiovascular system.
Propolis, aka “bee glue,” is another miraculous substance that comes from honeybee hives. The bees create this tacky, tar-like substance from collected tree resin primarily to seal gaps in the hive. Because of its ultra-sticky nature, it’s best made into a tincture for human use. Some studies have found that the use of propolis tincture can lower blood pressure, help treat warts topically and even kill some cancer cells. Like honey and pollen, propolis can even aid in relieving the suffering of seasonal allergies.
4. To Connect with Nature
There’s nothing like being elbow-deep in a box of humming, buzzing bees to make you feel connected to a natural system bigger than you. Tending a hive encourages you to slow down, pay attention, breathe deeply and become aware of very subtle changes in and around the hive.
As a beekeeper, you will become intimately familiar with the seasonal blooming schedule of flowering plants, trees and shrubs in your region, which will lead to a more knowledgeable and complex relationship with your area’s natural environment. In the transformation from casual observer to engaged beekeeper, you’ll experience and observe the interconnectedness of everything from sun to soil in a new way.
5. To Harvest Honey
Honey is an important reason many beekeepers get started. It’s important to note that you won’t likely harvest honey in your first year of beekeeping, and as your hive develops, you’ll need to be aware of how much honey you take from the hive.
Female worker bees spend a significant portion of their time gathering nectar and turning it into honey to feed the colony. Honey is carbohydrate source that will help the bees survive the winter. A single Langstroth hive needs to store 40 to 60 pounds of honey to survive the colder months. If you rob them of these stores, it spells almost certain death for the hive during the time of year when forage is scarce or nonexistent.
Lucky first-time beekeepers may harvest a modest amount of honey in their second year at best. When a colony is strong and thriving, they’re able to put away what is called a surplus of honey—anything beyond the bees’ required 60 pounds. To do so properly requires an intimate knowledge of the workings of a hive and a solid understanding of the blooming schedule in your area. Once you and your bees are in a good rhythm together, the reward of harvesting honey from your own bees is truly as sweet as it gets.
Read more about beekeeping on HobbyFarms.com: