How can I get started as a Backyard Beekeeper?
Beekeeping can be profitable, educational, motivational, and some find it therapeutic. Knowledge is very important when getting started on this exciting endeavour. Local beekeeping clubs and workshops are available to further the education of aspiring beekeepers or established beekeepers that want to learn more. Contact your Provincial Apiculturist for educational resources.
Before starting make sure to check your local bylaws to ensure backyard beekeeping is allowed in your community. If beekeeping in your own backyard is not feasible, ask a farmer to let you keep hives on his or her property. Your bees would be benefiting the farm land just be sure to give the farmer some honey for use of the land. Spend some time with bees to ensure you enjoy working with them.
It is important to remember that we are not trying to domesticate honey bees. However learning about their natural biology and being aware of the problems they face it is then that we better develop a progressive beekeeping system.
Wondering what you can do to help honey bees without becoming a beekeeper?
Plant a bee friendly garden. Not only will this be rewarding for honey bees but also many native pollinators. Although bees can travel several miles to collect pollen and nectar, they will visit the closest suitable source available. That source could often be in your backyard. Leaving some natural areas in your yard rather than landscaping every part of your yard is very advantageous to pollinators considering some native pollinators dwell in the ground. Provide a reliable water source for your neighbourhood bees. Whether it is a decorative fountain or a shallow pond, on a hot summer day they will be happy to have a water source.
The importance of pollination to the agriculture industry is immense. Honey bees pollinate an estimated 80% of vegetables as well as many other flowering plants and trees. Every 3rd mouthful of food is produced by bee pollinated crops. Many flowering plants depend on bees for pollination so that they can produce seeds and fruit. If there were no bees pollinating these plants there would be less fruits and vegetables to eat. Bees need pollen and nectar from flowers because it is a food source that they store in their hive.
Products of the Hive
Honey is made when honey bees gather nectar from flowers. Honey bees have a special honey stomach for their nutrition and another for carrying nectar back to the hive. The nectar is processed in their stomachs and when ready is regurgitated into honeycomb cells. They fan the cells to remove extra moisture. The end result is delicious honey.
Beeswax is produced from special glands on their abdomen which secrete the wax into pockets. The bee then chews the wax with their mandibles and forms it into honeycomb.
Royal jelly is a pasty cream like substance which is made from a special gland located in the worker bees head. The queen and young larvae are fed royal jelly. Royal jelly is high in vitamins, proteins and certain organic acids.
Propolis is a gum like substance that bees gather from flower buds, trees and other sources. It is used as a kind of glue that seals cracks and openings of the hive. Propolis has antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Pollen is collected from a variety of flowering plants. It is collected and carried back to the hive by foraging honey bees. Pollen is a source of protein for honey bees and is very important in their growth and development.
Tips for the Existing Backyard Beekeeper
- Join your local bee association to learn more about beekeeping.
- Always have your neighbour’s best interests in mind.
- Keep gentle bees. If your bees seem defensive, re-queen them.
- Prevent swarming. Make sure you are monitoring bees often not only to prevent swarming but to watch for pests and diseases. Add supers when needed as a swarming preventative measure.
- Make sure your bees have a good water source.
- Prevent robbing. Avoid situations where bees can get into extracting or storage areas for honey, feed and equipment.
- Inspect colonies in good weather conditions so the bees are not exposed to the elements for a prolonged period. This could result in defensive bees.
- A fence, shrub/hedge/plant barrier to keep the bees flying over head of pedestrians is recommended and can help to conceal your colonies.
Castes of the Honey Bee
There are three different castes within the honey bee colony: Queen, worker and Drone. The Queen and worker bees are female and the drones are male. Three caste pictures below courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica.
The Queens job is to lay eggs. She can lay up to 1500 eggs per day.
Worker bees get their name because they do most of the work in the colony. These jobs include taking care of the queen, feeding the young bees, cleaning, foraging and guarding the colony.
Drone bees have only one job within the colony and that is to mate with the queen. Mating occurs out of the hive in drone congregation areas. Drone bees do not have stingers.