I remember the days when fresh air and the buzz of bees were not a rarity. Growing up on a farm in Florida, I had the opportunity to view the ways of life and nature in its simplest form. My most majestic memories included watching honeybees do their work. These diligent creatures would buzz around; all doing their very specific jobs. At a very young age I would watch my grandfather from a distance tend to the bees. He would rarely wear the proper gear for working bees and somehow the bees seemed to know him. Without any fear he would make sure all was well in his 10 hives.
Being a youngster myself, I did not realize the importance of what he was doing. I did not realize that our farm’s crops would flourish due to the presence of these tiny insects until many years later. The bees did not care about your presence unless provoked, for they had a much more important task at hand. Bees merrily go about their day making sure pollen and nectar are collected, the queen is taken care of, and the hive is protected; unaware of how important their process is to our own survival as humans. But how can we protect the bees? How can we ensure that our children and grandchildren will have the opportunity to view such an amazing process?
When we think bees, we think honey! Well, no matter what we think, if there were no bees, there’d be no honey, no flowers, and no us! The hard part now is resting on the shoulders of new generations to keep our bees thriving. But how will they do this? How can the new generation of beekeepers keep their hives from falling victim to harmful pesticides, mites, hive beetles, or bacterial diseases such as American foulbrood? Here is a list of things that may be helpful in the battle to save our bees and keep us informed:
1. Join your local beekeeping association, get involved!
Most counties have a local beekeeper association. Usually there will be a small annual fee such as $15 for the entire year, and most organizations hold one meeting per month. This is a great way to learn and meet mentors in your local area who can assist you in the knowledge you need for proper bee care. Not only is this a good way to gain knowledge for yourself, bees are great for the entire family. Get your children involved! The association will provide you with the most up-to-date information on things like saving your hives form American foulbrood, mites, and hive beetle infestation. If you decide not to join, most beekeeping associations have websites . Check the websites for local events such as honey sales, clinics that teach you how to build your own hives, hive demonstrations, or just a beginner class for those who may need it.
Another great way to keep yourself informed about bees, to learn the basics, or to build on your master beekeeping skills is to attend The University of Florida’s Bee College. Every Spring UF holds a two-day weekend bee college that is very informative. Classes such as: how to extract honey, how to build your own frames, and when to move your bees are held there with the leading professionals from around the world. I personally attend every year and have met people from Australia to England, as well as a gentleman who is 90 years old and still keeps over 100 hives!
2. Get into backyard beekeeping! You can contact your county offices and find out what type of restrictions may apply to actually keeping bees in your backyard. For example: In my county the hive must be a certain distance from the road if you live within city limits. Make sure you are well informed on any regulations you may have to follow if you live within the city limits. Read as much information on beekeeping in your local climate and have a mentor lined up to help answer any questions. Books such as Beekeeping For Dummies or The Beekeeper’s Handbook can easily be found online or in your local bookstore. Just remember not all books were written for your climate so you may have to modify. Have all the proper gear to get started such as; extra frames, smoker, and hive tools. Many companies offer beginner kits that include your hive, hat, tools, and a smoker. All you have to do is add the bees!
In any backyard beekeeping situation, make sure you alert your neighbors if they live close by and give them as much knowledge on beekeeping as possible. This will ensure they feel safe having bees around. Encourage them to get involved and remind them how beautiful their flowers will be this year because of the bees. I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to give them a little jar of honey when the honey flow is on! Make sure you provide a fresh water source for your bees so that they do not end up trying to drink from you neighbors pool and drown (not a pretty sight for neighbors)! There is always a concern for those around you with allergies to bee stings. To those with allergies, a sting can be very serious and even fatal. Know what to do in that situation, know who is allergic, and keep emergency numbers handy. The epipen is a great thing to keep on standby for those who have allergies, however, you must speak with your doctor first.
3. Stop using harmful fertilizers and pesticides! For those of you who have a lovely green lawn that you often fertilize, reconsider. Growing up in Florida, most yards consisted of sand not lush sod! Chemically-enhanced fertilizers are polluting our waterways and killing our bees. Rather than focus on a lovely green lawn, look into planting cottage style. Use native growing plants from you area or even an edible lawn. Not only are these lawns trendy, they are healthy and need minimal care! There are many ways to eliminate those pests in your garden or on your flowers without using harmful pesticides. You can do an Internet search for organic ways to keep your garden pest free and a plethora of recipes come up. From earworms to snails, there is a natural way to keep your vegetables or flowers looking good. The harder your vegetables and fruits have to work to survive, the more nutritious and flavorful they actually are.
4. Buy local honey! So you may not be interested in taking on the challenge of raising bees, that’s okay! Most local farmers markets have someone who sells local honey. Not only are you supporting your local beekeepers, but you are providing your body with an organic sweet treat!
Remember these are just some recommendations that I use and would like to pass on. We all do our part to pollute but, we can all do our part to preserve as well. Educate your children or those close to you on the importance of these tiny creators we call bees. They provide us with so much; golden honey, royal jelly, and the ability to keep our planet pollinated so that our air is fresh and our food is plenty!