For a growing number of people, backyard beekeeping is the next logical step in their long-term self-reliance plan. The benefits are numerous and beekeepers say that if you can keep a garden or a pet, you can keep bees.
Backyard beekeepers not only enjoy dramatic improvements in garden yields, there is, of course, the honey and other products that can be harvested, used, sold or traded:
- Beeswax is the glandular secretions of honeybees that divide the cells of a hive. Common uses are lubrication for wood and metal (think natural WD40), wax, sealant, polish, waterproof for leather,
- Propolis is a mixture of beeswax and resins collected by the honeybee from plants. This resin is used as an antibacterial and antifungal agent.
- Royal jelly is what honeybees make and eat. Though there have been no clinical trials, it’s believed to have antimicrobial, antitumor, antihypertensive, and immunoregulatory properties. It also seems to have an insulin-like action and may affect estrogen production, providing fertility and hormonal-balancing benefits. Royal jelly is also full of B vitamins, which can be difficult to get outside of a supplement.
- Bee Pollen is high in protein and may also be useful in balancing hormones, healing prostrate issues, and stabilizing blood sugar.
No bees = No Food
Honeybees play a critical role in agriculture – over 1/3 of all the food we consume (over 150 species of edible plants and fruits in the U.S.) relies on honeybees for pollination. Without bees, we’re stuck with mostly rice, wheat, and corn and we’d be without fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Doesn’t sound like a fun diet. However, there is a critical decline in honeybee populations. Yale University reports that “colony collapse disorder”, a phenomenon caused by a decline in flowering plants, increased use of insecticides and air pollution, has destroyed over 35 percent of the U.S. honeybee population since 2006. Backyard and urban beekeepers are rallying to grow the population, placing and nurturing new hives on rooftops and pocket gardens all over the country. Since bees can fly long distances to do their work (up to two miles!), it’s not necessary to have a garden nearby.
If you’re interested in getting started, there’s no shortage of online information. Your community may even have free or inexpensive basic classes offered by enthusiastic backyard beekeepers in your area. Here are some basics:
- Find out if there are zoning regulations concerning beekeeping in your area.
- Educate yourself about beekeeping safety. Most “bee stings” are really from yellow jackets, not docile, non-aggressive honeybees, however, it’s important to ensure you or anyone in your family doesn’t have a severe bee sting allergy.
- Plan where to put your hives. An area as small a tenth of an acre can support a hive, but you’ll want a screen of hedge plants or the wall of a building or behind a building so the bees are protected from curious people and so the bees have to fly up and away when leaving the hive (so that they aren’t flying at human height).
- Discuss your plans with your neighbors, most complaints have to do with the fear of being stung, so a little information about the safety and benefits may go a long way to winning them over.
After you’ve done your homework and gotten the green light from family, neighbors and zoning boards, take a basic class or get in contact with an online community of beekeepers who can answer questions and help you set up a healthy bee community.
Some good resources for getting started and getting plugged in:
Outdoor Place: http://outdoorplace.org/beekeeping/citybees.htm
HoneyLove Urban Beekeepers: http://iheartbees.tumblr.com/
Glory Bee Beekeeping: http://beekeeping.glorybee.com/beeblog