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5 Things You Need to Know About Beekeeping

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5 Things You Need to Know About Beekeeping

Photo: Marcy Stellfox

Backyard chickens are all the rage now, but increasing in popularity are backyard beekeepers. San Saba sisters Ashley and Sara Smith share some information on how to keep a happy hive.

1. The Space Suit is a Must

5 Things You Need to Know About Beekeeping

Photo: Marcy Stellfox

We’ve all experienced the unpleasantness of a bee sting, but how ‘bout hovering over the hive shaking things up without protection. Not a great idea. So protective gear is a must. Beekeeping suits vary in price from $20 – $50 for a jacket to $70 – $125 for a full suit. According to Sara, “significantly more expensive but well worth the price” are specially vented beekeeping suits made from mesh – a necessity for the hot Texas summers. Because bees need their hives checked regularly to ensure the health of the queen, productivity levels, and evidence of life cycle stages, you’re gonna want the duds to do the job. Gear is available from area specialty beekeeper shops or online.

2. Smoking Out Your Bees is a Good Thing

5 Things You Need to Know About Beekeeping

Photo: Marcy Stellfox

Another piece of equipment necessary to beekeeping is the smoker. Interestingly enough, smoking out your bees “relaxes them and encourages them to eat,” says Sara. That way, when you start disassembling their hives to do your maintenance checks or introduce supplemental feed in drought conditions, they are less likely to become an angry mob.

3. All Hail the Queen (larger bee with elongated body pictured at center)

5 Things You Need to Know About Beekeeping

Photo: Marcy Stellfox

Bees have a unique colony system. The queen is the most important member of the hive, but cannot do her job without the multitude of servants she has to keep her healthy. Drone bees develop from unfertilized worker bee eggs. Their job is to mate with the queen and do nothing else. They are seen as a drag on the hive during winter months as the queen is not laying, so they are killed off in the autumn to conserve precious resources for the other bees to adequately survive the cold. Worker bees are just that. Sent out to collect nectar and pollen, keep the hive clean, feed newborn bees, and lay eggs to create drones, these bees are definitely keeping busy.

4. Don’t Get Robbed

5 Things You Need to Know About Beekeeping

Photo: Marcy Stellfox

Choose your “bee stock” carefully. There are a few different varieties of honeybees that do well in central Texas. According to beesource.com, Italian, Russian, and Carniolan are some of the most popular varieties due to their resistance to disease and parasites, as well as their more docile demeanor. However, even these varieties need to be watched carefully. Italian bees while usually considered the most docile, have a reputation for “robbing” other weaker, less productive hives. On the other hand, Russian bees tend to exhibit waxing and waning production based on the amount of nectar and pollen available.

They also tend to have a “queen cell” continuously present. There can only be one queen, so the chance of a new queen coming into the hive can disrupt the colony, causing the colony to split. Finally, the Carniolan variety while very good honey and honeycomb producers can often become overcrowded, resulting in a swarm. Swarming occurs when the queen leaves the hive and takes several of the worker bees with her. With no queen, the hive cannot survive. Sara and Ashley keep a combination of Italian and Carniolan bees in their 5 backyard hives and have found that this combination works well together.

5. Bees Can Carry the Load (worker bee’s leg baskets loaded down with pollen)

5 Things You Need to Know About Beekeeping

Photo: Marcy Stellfox

Just how does honey production work? Check this out….Adult female worker bees leave the hive and collect pollen stored in “baskets” on a third pair of legs and also suck nectar in through their proboscis into their stomachs. Returning to the hive, worker bees deposit their “booty” in honeycomb cells adding water. Once the cells are sufficiently full, the “flapping” bees flap their wings over the cells drying them out. Then, they deposit a wax cap onto the top of the cell where the honey will be stored. To extract the honey, these wax caps have to be removed. Beekeepers can painstakingly cut away the wax covering by hand, or use a centrifuge to extract the honey. More recently, “honey on tap” extractors have become available utilizing specialized frames that allow the honey to be extracted when a tap is turned on.

Honey bees are a very important part of our ecosystem. In recent, years due to a variety of environmental factors, the bee population has declined. Do your part to keep these vital creatures plentiful and consider beekeeping as a backyard hobby. You’ll be helping the environment, and won’t have to hit up the grocery store for your very own pot of sweetness.