Food Network star and cookbook author Trace Barnett gave tips on beekeeping. Find gardening tips, recipes and more Southern traditions in Trace's book "Tracing Roots: A Modern Approach to Living Off the Land", which is available on www.Amazon.com and wherever you buy books. Follow Trace on Facebook and Instagram @thebittersocialite.
TIPS ON BEEKEEPING
FIRST AND FOREMOST, DO YOUR RESEARCH
There is a myriad of books, websites, blogs, and resources to get anyone, no matter their skill level, started off on the right foot. Study and read like you’re just out of law school and getting ready to take the Bar. Some fabulous titles that concentrate solely on the subject and will guide you all the way through the process are “The Beekeeper’s Bible” by Richard Jones, and “The Beekeeper’s Handbook,” by Diana Sammataro.
LEARN ABOUT BEES AND THEIR ROLES
Bees are extraordinary creatures that, with the proper care, will yield many pounds of sweet honey while also doing their part to keep our world turning. All of the workers are female, and their jobs include gathering nectar; guarding the hive and honey; caring for the queen and larvae; cleaning; and producing honey. Drones are the males, and they have one job: to mate with the queen. Drones lack a stinger, so if you get stung, it’s most certainly a female worker. As fall approaches, the drones will be driven from the hive to die; they are seen as a drain on the resources of the colony.
The queen’s only job is to mate and lay eggs. She decides whether to fertilize an egg, resulting in a female worker, or not to fertilize the egg, which will produce a drone. A queen’s lifespan is usually two to four years. Everything about a beehive is efficient. It is a fantastic little world. Bees can recognize faces, colors, and shapes. The lifespan of a worker bee is about six weeks, and she will literally work herself to death. Bees can forage for nectar up to five miles away from the hive, so it’s important to know what’s around you when you start your hives—industrial pesticides sprayed on fields will kill your bees, or cause them to leave.
In addition to research, the most effective mode of learning is to listen to those who have been beekeeping for many years. It is safe to say that if you gather twenty beekeepers in a room and ask one question, you will probably get, at the very least, twenty different answers. Take the information that you think will work best for you; each hive is it’s own little “queendom,” meaning they’re all different.
Most counties have a local beekeeper association teaming with beekeepers ready to guide you through this exciting venture. If you don’t already know a beekeeper or your county does not have a local beekeeping association, go to a regional meeting. I found it helpful to visit a friend’s bee garden and help out for the day. It is also a great way to see some of what’s involved before you invest in bees. There are also excellent free online beekeeping classes. If that’s not modern, I don’t know what is.
I do recommend starting with at least two colonies of bees, that way you can compare the progress of the two, but you’re not overwhelmed with too many. You also need to be OK with the fact that it will be the second year before you get any honey from your hives. The bees need all the honey they produce in the first year to survive through the winter.
Please don’t watch those beekeepers on YouTube or follow the example of my Paw. Wear protective bee gear to do inspections; you’ll need a suit, a bee veil, and gloves. If not, you will get stung a lot. Be smart, suit up!
RESPECT THE BEES
Just a few things to keep in mind when handling your bees: don’t swat at them; be calm; move slowly; and never walk in front of your hives because
that interferes with their unique and specific flight patterns. Always use a smoker for inspection, as it masks the attack mode pheromone that the guard bees emit (how would you feel if some giant ripped the top of your house off?). Most importantly, enjoy these fantastic, industrious, and beautiful creatures.