Take up beekeeping
The winter blues have hit Southern Maryland.
January and February always seem like the longest months of the year. The weather is dreary and cold. The sun itself is on vacation, and we’re left waiting for its return. And nothing is worse this time of year than getting a cold.
Do you load up on Vitamin C or try one of the medicinal options at the drugstore? Or maybe you follow the advice of an age-old proverb that advises a person to “starve a fever and feed a cold.”
My favorite remedy is pretty simple — a cup of hot tea with lemon and honey. The heat and lemon help open the nasal passages, while the syrupy honey coats the throat. It doesn’t cost much and provides relief.
But I’m not referencing the kind of honey you buy in a plastic bear off the shelf at the grocery store. No, I’m talking about the good stuff that comes straight from the honeycomb, golden and flavorful, honey in the raw, the way Mother Nature intended it to be.
Lucky for me, my sister has her own farm where she tends chickens, goats and — you guessed it — bees. She sends me two pints of the best honey every fall after she harvests her hives. I have to keep the jars on a high shelf in the kitchen, otherwise the kids eat it by the spoonful and it’s gone before I even get a chance to enjoy it.
You might be interested in beekeeping and this is the time of year to start getting ready. It might feel like January is a bit early to be planning and preparing, but the next few weeks are crucial for anyone who wants to get into beekeeping this spring.
Maybe you want your own bees because of the recent news that honeybee popula- tions are declining. Almost 90 percent of flowering plants depend on animals for pollination, with bees accounting for a big portion of that.
If you grow your own fruits and veggies, having a beehive nearby will increase your garden’s yield. How many times have you had to fertilize squash by hand or risk having another fruit wither on the vine because it wasn’t fertilized? That won’t happen if you have your own crew of bees visiting all the flowers in your garden.
And if you want a hobby that will provide endless fascination, beekeeping will never get dull. Having 60,000 of these industrious insects in your own backyard will help you become a master of observation. You’ll watch and learn about the different jobs bees have in the hive.
We’ve all heard the phrases worker bees and queen bee. With your own hive you’ll be able to get firsthand knowledge of why bees get those titles. And you’ll get more attuned to the world you are living in, paying attention to the cycle of the seasons, what’s blooming and when and how much rain we’ve had.
I should put in a disclaimer here too that bees are not generally aggressive and do not normally sting unless provoked to the point that their lives are in danger or they think the
hive is being attacked. Wasps, which are often confused with bees, are much more aggressive and likely to bite or sting. That said, anyone who keeps bees will get stung on occasion.
Of course, getting honey straight from the comb is a good reason, too, although keep in mind you usually won’t get enough production the first year of beekeeping to har vest any honey.
And did you know that honey tastes vary depending on the region and time of year? Honey har vested earlier in the season is lighter and more delicate-flavored while later season honey is darker and has a stronger flavor. And of course the taste depends on what the bees have been visiting, which is strongly regionalized. Don’t forget other products such as beeswax candles, certain lip balms, and beeswax furniture polish wouldn’t be possible without bees.
The upfront costs for beekeeping are significant when starting from scratch. The monetary commitment is around $500, but if you’re pretty handy, you could possibly build your own hive and save a bit.
You’ll need at least one hive, and some experienced beekeepers recommend starting out with a second one, which adds a little to the bottom line. Just the bees alone have a hefty price tag of about $100 or more for a start-up colony.
There are a couple different kinds of beehives to choose from, each with their own pros and cons, and you’ll have to decide which kind to use and where to install it on your property.
You’ll need to purchase basic tools like a smoker and bee suit. And then comes the fun part, you’ll have to decide what kind of bees to order, and you’ll need to do that soon because they sell out fast.
There are two options, buying a nucleus, or nuc, or getting a package of bees. If you don’t know the difference and which to buy (hint: a nuc only fits a Langstroth hive), taking a class and talking to experienced beekeepers will help you decide.
While there are plenty of books about beginning beekeeping available nowadays, beekeeping is complicated. That’s why it’s a good idea to take a beekeeping class to help you make decisions and connect you with a whole wealth of information from local beekeepers who have experience keeping bees.
In our area, the Association of Southern Maryland Beekeepers is holding a beginner’s beekeeping course in February at the Calvert County Sportsman’s Club in Prince Frederick.
The class will meet from 9 a.m. to noon Feb. 11, 18, and 25. The cost, which includes a textbook, is $40 per person or $45 for a couple who shares a book.
The class fills quickly, so if you are interested, contact Cheryl at firstname.lastname@example.org for enrollment information and to see if seats are still available.