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Apiculture

Posted by kevinwolz on June 30, 2010

Bees are amazing creatures. They are studied by experts from fields as diverse as computer science and aerospace engineering to ecology and cellular physiology. I have been learning a lot about bees lately as I eat and explore honey on my local diet. Yesterday, I was finally able to make it out to the farm that produces all of the honey I buy at the local FM. The owner uses his 20 acres primarily to sustain his family with food year-round, as well sell a small surplus at the FM. He grows a diverse set of veggies and fruit, as well as raises some cattle and small livestock. Of course, he also has a bunch of beehives. I received the full farm tour and then got a little hands-on experience with apiculture.

Lucky for me, the farmer had noticed a swarm of bees emerge from a hive and land on a nearby tree just before I arrived. When a hive gets too crowded, the bees decide that they need to split the colony in half. They prepare for two weeks, primarily by putting the queen on a diet so she can actually fly. Then, the old queen leaves the hive with half the colony, leaving behind a new queen with the rest. The emerged swarm follows the queen’s every move, from perch to perch, until they find a viable new home. At the sight of a swarm, a beekeeper typically provides that new home, so he can recapture the bees in a new hive. This is exactly what we did.

We first constructed a new hive from the bottom up and prepped it for use by the bees. Then, using a handy vacuum contraption custom-made for sucking up a swarm, I trapped all the bees in a small cage. I did wear a full bee suit, but honestly, it wasn’t even necessary: the bees weren’t aggressive at all. Finally, we dumped the bees into the new hive and closed it up. In no time at all, they’ll be acquainted with their new home and get busy multiplying and making and honey.

Afterwards, I spent some quality time with the owner’s father and master beekeeper receiving essentially Apiculture 101 in an hour. He explained everything from mating behaviors to honey harvesting. As I said before, bees are amazing creatures. Their life cycles and social structures are so complex and interesting, and they are also extremely necessary to our food production and ecosystems. Not to mention, a hive can produce over 100 pounds of honey per year! I certainly wouldn’t mind getting a hive of my own sometime soon.

The brood-chamber (bottom box) of the new hive, with three of the ten inserts. Melted beeswax was painted on the inserts to give the bees an initial layer to work with.

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4 Responses to “Apiculture”

  1. Joan said

    Amazing, Kevin. Now you know how to be a bee-keeper and produce your own honey. How is your to-do-in-the-
    future list going? You must have
    checked off several so far this summer.

    GB

  2. Pae said

    “propolis”

  3. Gavin said

    Awesome! Is bee keeping something a novice can do? Or how does one get into bee keeping if you don’t have experience?

    • kwolz said

      Hey Gavin,
      I would say beekeeping is definitely something a novice can do with just a little bit of startup help. Once the bees get established in a proper situation, they more or less take of themselves. I think the best way to start would be to contact your local beekeeping association. You’d be surprised…they’re all over. Someone there can probably come help get you started.

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