Backyard beekeeping

All photos taken by David Klemp.

Honey bee colonies all across the Unites States are being decimated and scientists are hard pressed to explain why.  If we were to lose our honey bees, we could lose 80 percent of our global food supply because there are 90 different crops, and virtually all of our non-grain foods that are largely dependent on honey bee pollination for propagation.  As a result, backyard beekeeping is experiencing a new renaissance.  Many states offer beginning beekeeping classes and have even offered grants to individuals who are interested in keeping bees in their backyard.  There are plenty of resources available for beginners who are interested in taking up beekeeping, including books, classes, or more experienced bee keepers.

We have kept a varying number of bee hives over the past thirty years and last weekend we had a hive swarm and set up shop on one of the trees in our garden.  This is the way a hive reproduces.  The old queen had produced a new queen and once the new one was old enough, they divvied up the worker bees and split the hive so we now have an additional hive of bees.  Recapturing a swarm is an involved process that is most successful when done at night, because bees will not fly at night.

Initially, we noticed there were a large number of bees on the exterior of the hive in the day leading up to the swarming.

Around 2 in the afternoon, David took this photo.

They had mostly settled down on a branch in a tree in our garden.  There still were a fair number buzzing around the area.  Caroline wanted to climb the tree immediately, but instead opted to wait for safety equipment and the optimal time to recapture the highest percentage of the bees.

That evening, once we had recruited the use of safety equipment and a long ladder, Caroline climbed the tree around midnight to recapture the queen and the bulk of the swarm.  She lowered the bag down to her friend Richard, who then carried it over to David who was suited up to dump the bees into a new box.  This is a midnight shot, using a super high ISO – three stops above 1600, with a 200 mm telephoto, on a tripod, and illuminated with a 100 watt spot from the ground.

If you are interested in beekeeping, chances are your local or state governments have a wealth of information on classes and regulations that will help you get started.  The Backyard Beekeepers Association would be another good place to start.  If you are local to the Santa Cruz, California area we would be happy to direct you to some local resources.

Even if you aren’t interested in beekeeping, there are plenty of things you can do to help the plight of honey bees and attract them to your backyard.  Bees need a food source, so you should plant flowering plants.  They are especially attracted to blue and yellow flowers.  Native flowers will generally offer more nutritious pollen than hybrids.  You could also leave a honey and water solution out, but make sure you don’t use pasteurized honey, as it will kill any bees that consume it.  If you can’t find unpasteurized honey in  your grocery store, try your local farmer’s market or even your health food store.

Decrease or eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides in your garden.  Instead, use natural insect control solutions such as ladybugs, praying mantises, or green lacewings.  Leaving spider webs will also help with insect control.

Finally, bees need a water source, so a small water feature or bird bath in your garden would be a good solution.

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One Response to Backyard beekeeping

  1. It MAY be easier at night because the bees don’t fly, as Maartje says above, but it is really creepy (to me) to have a bunch of bees crawling all over you. I personally prefer day captures when I can see what I am doing.

    When a hive swarms, the bees load up on honey from the old hive like flying honey tankers, and they fly around in circles, stoned on honey, looking for where the queen settles. In the middle of thousands of mellow stoned bees is a marvelous place to stand.

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