Backyard beekeeping is beneficial for the bee population and agriculture
The bee “season” may be drawing to an end, but it’s never too early to plan for future hives and next year’s honey crop, and how the tiny flying insects actually benefit agriculture.
Bees are responsible for pollinating nearly 85 percent of all food crops for humans, as well as numerous crops fed to livestock.
According to Perfectbee.com, there are dozens of species of solitary bees that have evolved to pollinate a single type of plant, and coexisting in unison with the lifespan of that plant. Worldwide, honey bees and other pollinators help to produce about $170 billion in crops.
According to a study by the Bee Informed Partnership, a nonprofit organization associated with the University of Maryland, between April 1, 2018, to April 1, 2019, the managed bee population decreased by 40.7 percent. The overall loss rate is around the average of what researchers and beekeepers have seen since 2006.
“There have been many theories about the decline in pollinators, including butterflies, bumblebees, native mason bees as well as honey bees but I think it mostly has to do with the overuse of herbicides and pesticides,” Candida Seibert, an experienced beekeeper and owner of Bee About, a company that specializes in bee products, of Eldridge, Mo., said. “People use them to keep the dandelions out of their yards, the ticks under control and understandably so, especially with the recent upsurge in tick-borne diseases.”
She added that using herbicides and pesticides first thing in the morning or late in the evening keeps bees from coming into direct contact with the chemicals.
In addition to the dangers posed by various chemicals, varroa mite infestations have also been a deadly threat to local bees and beehives. Those parasites have wiped out a great many Ozark beehives in past decades.
Seibert said recent upswings in backyard hives from those who want to produce their own honey is having a positive impact on bee populations, and more and more agricultural producers are seeing the production benefits of honeybees.
“We are working with a couple of fruit orchards and berry farms in our local area, both of which are just getting started,” she said. “I’m so glad to see people reaching out in their efforts to use bees as pollinators as they are so important in agriculture.
“I really think the backyard beekeeper is the answer to the honey bee shortage, rather than commercial beekeepers.”
She cautioned that while increase bee populations are beneficial, too many bees in one area could actually be detrimental.
“Bees will travel about 2 1/2 miles in any one direction from the hive so that means they have about a 5-mile overall range around the hive,” Seibert said. “That also means an area can support a maximum of about 20 hives. After that, there just isn’t enough food resources available to the bees to allow them to build up enough honey, their food for the winter. We had about 60 hives going into last fall but we are now downsizing to about 20 hives. If you have more than 20 hives, you need to move them around to different locations.”
Getting Ready: The best time to start planning and amassing equipment for beekeeping is the fall. It’s still nice enough you can explore outside for the perfect location, and have plenty of time to read up and track down the right equipment, including acquiring frames and boxes, and protective equipment.
Fall and winter are also ideal to research beekeeping in your local area, and determine how many hives are wanted and can be supported.
Weather Conditions for a New Hive: When spring begins and the weather begins to warm is the ideal time for bees to start a new hive. Their activity levels build along with the blooming of flowers and they can tend to and build their hive as the season flourishes. Cold weather will inhibit the bees’ movements and they will not work on the hive until the season changes. Spring may begin later in some regions than others, so you should plan for your specific region.
Timing to Start in the Spring: As soon as the weather begins to warm up and flowers start to bloom, you can set up your hive. Plan well and get your bees into the hive as soon as possible to allow them the time to gather as much nectar as possible through the next few months. By the time fall rolls around, the hive should be well established and honey should have been produced in abundance, barring any unforeseen complications.
When to Order Bees: You need to order bees to arrive in early spring to get them installed in the hive on time. Ordering and receipt of your bees are two different things. Be sure to order well in advance to ensure your bees do indeed arrive on time. Talk to local beekeepers to identify the optimum time to order from local suppliers.