Dr. Leo Sharashkin
Did you know that insect pollination, mostly from honeybees, is critical to a third of the world’s food supply? Did you know that honeybees were not present in North America when the first European settlers arrived? When they did arrive with settlers, they were quick to naturalize. Researchers have recently discovered bees wax on pottery that was made between 7500 and 2000 BC. This means that humans have been working with bees for over 9000 years. Dr. Leo Sharashkin shared his beekeeping wisdom at the Homesteading Life Conference.
Honey production was thought to be endless in the 1800’s. Bees lived in trees in the forest, but with settlement, the trees were cut down and the flower laden meadows were converted to agriculture, and honey began to be in short supply. This lead to beekeeping becoming an agricultural product. Bee- keeping can be profitable with the right information.
Why is it that up to the present, beekeeping is not widely spread on sustainable farms and in conservation programs around the country? Most of the current bee keeping practices focus on honey production at the expense of and welfare of the bees. This is unsustainable. It requires skill and the use of many chemicals.
“Keeping bees requires little effort, and barely any capital to get started,” wrote Georges da Layens in Keeping Bees in Horizontal Hives: A Complete Guide to Apiculture. Europe’s leading beekeeping authority lived in the 1800’s. Following his methods with my 40 hives, I witnessed that keeping bees can be indeed simpler than growing tomatoes, but most beekeepers’ experiences are quite different. If you want to add a few hives of bees to an agroforestry system, you need to practice the kind of bee keeping that focuses on bees and their sustainability. You need to develop the kind of hive bees live in in nature and you need to get locally adapted bees.
20 years ago the Varroa mite arrived from Asia. It altered beekeeping and resulted in the commercial bee-keepers needing to treat bees with insecticides to kill the mites. This process removed the opportunity for bees to adapt. We have since learned the local bees have adapted, so the best bees to have in your hive are local wild bees. You can catch them in swarm bait boxes, which are easy to make. You should put the box up in a tree at the edge of a forest. Pick one that stands out.
Once you have a swarm, what kind of hive should we use? In Europe they use horizontal hives.
In the conventional way, you need to add a new box, one on top of another to accommodate expansion as the hive grows. In the horizontal hive, you put multiple racks into a big box and leave them alone.
You only need to check on them once or twice a year. Put the bees in this kind of box with nothing, just the wired frames to help hold the comb as they build it. You will want to build of “two by” lumber or make two walls with an airspace between to be insulated to protect the hive during temperature extremes. The racks are 13” wide and 16” deep. This gives the bees an opportunity to work up the frame, much like a wild hive built inside a tree. I have my hives along a path in the forest about two miles from my house.
The beauty of this form of hive is that you don’t need to disturb the entire hive as they grow, just put new racks in on the far side away from the brood racks. This cuts down on the need to swarm because they have plenty of space to expand. Also, when it’s time to harvest, you can smoke the hive and working from the end away from the queen and workers feeding the babies, you can harvest the extra honey, which gets stored away from them any how. These allow you to collect between 20 and 100 pounds of honey from the hive, but don’t forget to leave them about 40 pounds to eat over the winter.
Billie Nicholson, Editor