Thursday, December 1, 2016

Commercial Beekeeping

There are an estimated 115,000 – 125,000 beekeepers in the United States. The vast majority are hobbyists with less than 25 hives. Commercial beekeepers are those with 300 or more hives. Men and women that keep hundreds or even thousands of honeybee hives do so as a full time job. They depend on their honeybees for most or sometimes all of their income. Commercial beekeepers will produce large amounts of honey to bottle and sell, rent their hives to growers for pollination, raise honeybee hives to sell to new beekeepers, or sell other products produced by the honeybees. Commercial beekeeping operations are frequently family businesses that are handed down from generation to generation. Their job is so important because all of the world needs to eat. Many of our crops have to be pollinated in order for them to grow and produce.

Hives near almonds for pollination
Pollination is the single most important service that honeybees provide for us, and commercial beekeepers are responsible for a large portion of that! Pollination is the fertilization of plants necessary to produce nuts, fruits, and even seeds. For a plant to be pollinated, the pollen grains need to be moved from the stamen (the male part of the flower) to the pistil (female part of the flower) so that fertilization can occur. There are many different animals and insects that pollinate plants. Honeybees are especially good pollinators because pollen is their main source of protein. They need protein just like you and me do to grow healthy and strong. As they travel from flower to flower collecting pollen to eat, they pollinate our crops.

Migratory beekeepers move their bees across the country
Many commercial beekeepers migrate their colonies during the year to provide pollination services to farmers and to reach the most abundant sources of nectar. There is a special type of commercial beekeeper called migratory beekeepers. Beekeepers who “migrate” move their honeybee hives all across the country so that their honeybees can pollinate crops. These beekeepers have to plan and prepare plenty of time in advance. The honeybees are moved at night after the foragers have returned to their hive so that honeybees will not be left behind. To ship the honeybees, the beekeepers load the hives onto large flatbed trucks (450 hives per truck!), and the bees are then driven to crops which need to be pollinated. 

Queen bee 
Another very important part of commercial beekeeping is buying queen bees. When the bees travel around the country, the queen bee has to be replaced more often. The queen bee in a honeybee hive is the mother of all the other bees in that hive, which makes her the single most important bee in the entire beehive. Because the queen is so important, there are beekeepers who focus just on producing new queens. Queen rearers focus on raising and breeding healthy new queens to keep hives strong. The queens are shipped to beekeepers all over the country once they are ready to begin their duties in the hive. The commercial beekeepers get these queens in the mail and then put them into their hives (we call this re-queening). This keeps the hives healthy and strong, ready to be most productive at their job of pollinating.

Commercial beekeeping is important to every single one of us! Without honeybee pollination, we would not have 1/3 of the food we eat! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Winter Preparation

Beekeepers care about their honeybees and want them to survive through winter to spring. Ways to achieve this vary by the region the beekeeper calls home. In the northern United States, we have harsh winters to deal with. It is our job to give them the best chances of making through our frigid temperatures. Leave enough honey for the bees to consume throughout the cold season. This is where they will get their energy to shake their flight muscles to maintain proper thermoregulation, or generate heat. The bees will form a cluster and move upward through their honey stores. If possible, provide the hives with a good windbreak.

Moisture levels can also be an issue. Some beekeepers will put moisture board in place of their inner cover. The board will absorb moisture and any air flow over the board will wick moisture from the hive. Other may also choose to wrap or insulate their hives. It is also important to make sure the hives are pest and disease free going into winter.

In the southern United States, many of these same concepts still apply. However, there is much less worry about below-freezing temperatures and wrapping hives. Ensuring that hives are healthy and have a good supply of honey are key to the survival of the hives.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Honey In Medicine

Did you know honey is used as a medicine?  

In ancient science and medicine, honey was appreciated for its unique healing properties. Some of the earliest known medical writings, including the Ebers Papyrus, include honey as an important ingredient in many remedies. Today, honey is used to heal burns and wounds, treat allergies, fight infection and soothe sore throats. 

Honey can be used to heal wounds, cuts, scrapes, burns and for other medicinal purposes. Honey is antibacterial which means it kills germs; honey is also known as a humectant. This means it will hold in moisture. Since it is antibacterial, it keeps the wound clean and its moisture helps the wound to heal well. Wounds sometimes can show no signs of healing after long periods of time. It has been found that when wounds like this are treated with honey, the healing process and cell regeneration begins. Honey does this by promoting the formation of granulation tissue and by stimulates cell growth and the growth of epithelium (a type of tissue) over wounds. These two necessary tissues basically form the new skin of the wound when it begins to heal or is healed. Honey will prevent infections, help the cut heal faster, and prevent scaring by forming tissue. 

Honey is also excellent if you have a sore throat or cough. Eating honey or adding it to hot tea can help coat and soothe your throat. Also, eating 1-2 tablespoons of honey a day can help to boost your immune system!

Honey in general is very healthy! The next time you head to your local farmers market or buy honey from a local beekeeper, remember honey is not just for eating! It has a multitude of other uses. Think of honey as nature’s medicine chest! For more information on honey as nature’s medicine check out the book Honey: The Gourmet Medicine by Joe Traynor.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Honey Harvest

The end of summer has finally arrived and we can harvest honey! We have already gathered the equipment that is required to complete the process: extractor, hot knife, honey buckets, and a strainer. But before we can grab honey supers off the hives, we need to make sure we leave as many bees as possible in the hive. One method to do this is with bee escapes.
Bee escape
Bee escapes are inexpensive and snap into the hole in the inner cover. The inner cover is then
placed below the lowest honey super. It is designed so that any bees in the honey supers can move down into the brood nest section of the hive, but cannot return through the escape to the honey supers. Supers can then be removed from the hive for harvest. Other methods include bee blowers and aromatic sprays that repel the bees. It is the preference of the beekeeper.

Uncapping a frame
Once we have our bee-free honey supers to our honey harvesting facility, we can begin to uncap our frames of honey. The hot knife should be plugged in for a couple minutes to reach optimum heat. The blade should be used to scrape off just the outermost layer of wax cap without gouging into the comb. Uncap both sides of a frame and place it in a basket in the extractor. Continue to uncap frames until your extractor is at capacity.

Ensure the extractor is secured in place. Start turning the hand crank or turn on the motor to spin the baskets in the extractor. The force of spinning will fling the honey out of the comb. If using a tangential extractor, where only one side of the frame faces the outer wall of the extractor, flip the frames around to extract the opposite side. The honey will hit the sides of the extractor and settle to the bottom. The gate on the extractor can be opened to allow honey to flow out. Make sure a honey bucket affixed with a strainer is under the valve! The strainer will separate out any chunks of wax or bee debris.

Depending on the beekeeper, the honey can be bottled at this point. Others may choose to run the honey through a smaller strainer to remove additional wax or debris. The only step left is cleanup.

To see this process in action, check out this video by a previous American Honey Princess.
Video of small scale honey harvest:

Monday, August 1, 2016

Honeybees Need Your Help

Here are five things you can do to help the honeybee.

1. Plant bee-friendly flowers in your yard
There are many flowers that bees really like and we call these ‘bee friendly flowers.’ Bees need flowers to survive. Flowers produce pollen and nectar. The bees collect the pollen to eat for themselves and to feed to their babies back home. Pollen is the bees source of protein, just like you and I need protein to grow healthy and strong, bees need protein as well. Nectar is the bees carbohydrates. Carbohydrates give the bees energy to do all of their many jobs. Honeybees also use the nectar to make honey! You can help provide the bees with food by planting flowers in pots or in your yard for the bees to come and collect pollen and nectar! 

Bees drinking water

2. Make sure the bees have plenty of water
Just like most creatures on earth, bees need water. Water helps to keep the bees hydrated. You can help the bees by creating a little spot for them to come and get clean water to drink. Pour water in a small bowl and add rocks or sticks to the water so there is a place for the bees to land so they don’t drown. Providing the bees with water is a great way to help!

3. Buy local honey
Local honey for sale
You can support beekeepers by buying local honey. Beekeepers work hard to keep their bees alive and healthy so that they can pollinate our food for us. Many times when the bees make honey, the beekeeper will sell that honey to make money to keep taking care of his/her bees. So you can help the honeybee by supporting and buying honey from a beekeeper in your area!

4. Become a beekeeper
Yes, you can be a beekeeper! Beekeepers are all different ages. So whether you are a young kid or a grown adult, you can start keeping bees. The first step to being a good beekeeper is learning as much as you can about honeybees. There are classes and books that will teach you all you need to know to start your own beehive. Starting your own bee hive is a very fun way to help honeybees! 
Kids who started beekeeping
5. Teach others what you know
Lastly you can teach your friends and family what you know about honeybees. You can teach them how important they are to our food supply and to our environment. You and your friends can plant flowers together, or make bee watering spots, or even enjoy eating honey snacks together all while helping the honeybee thrive. 

Honeybees are amazing creatures and they need your help!