James Rada, Jr.
As the weather warms up, you might start to hear a buzzing as bees emerge from their hives to seek out pollen to create honey. They have spent the winter in their hives, clustered together, using their body heat to maintain warmth. With the outflow of bees, you might also notice people who look like they’re wearing radiation suits.
Dan Harbaugh of Emmitsburg maintains 35 beehives. He decided to learn about beekeeping after he retired because he wanted a new challenge. He took a class in Westminster offered by the Carroll County Beekeepers Association. He now sells his raw honey (meaning it is strained but not heat treated) at the Harbaugh Farm Greenhouse and Produce in Sabillasville.
Beekeepers will often sell additional products, such as beeswax, propolis, pollen, and even bees and hives.
Beekeeping has roots that go back to ancient Egypt. Workers keeping bees can be seen on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples. They knew what modern beekeepers know. Not only can bees be a source of honey and wax, but having them around improves the pollination of plants and flowers nearby.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Bee pollination is responsible for $15 billion in added crop value, particularly for specialty crops such as almonds and other nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables. About one mouthful in three in the diet directly or indirectly benefits from honeybee pollination.”
“Honeybees are critical to our food chain, and I respect them deeply,” said Kelly Frye-Valerio of Emmitsburg.
While beekeeping is not expensive, there are set-up expenses beekeepers usually buy. These include hive supplies, an extractor, a smoker, and protective clothing. These add up to a few hundred dollars to get started, but it may be nearly all of your costs for years except for the cost of bottling the honey.
These initial costs are unlikely to be covered in the first year you have a hive because it takes time to get a healthy hive established. Once a bee hive is established, it doesn’t take much to care for them. Keep the hives in the sun and near a source of food. Once a week or so, beekeepers will check the hives to make sure there is enough room for the bees.
You don’t need a large area to keep a hive. Frye-Valerio lives in a subdivision.
“My husband and I are looking to transition in to more of a self-sustaining lifestyle,” she said. “Until we are able to find the right property, we are starting with what we can do right now on our quarter of an acre in a subdivision.” They maintain four hives on their property.
Bees range for up to two miles in their search for pollen. They will collect pollen from whatever plants are in the area. The honey is usually identified by the plants the pollen is collected from, such as clover honey or orange blossom honey. Harbaugh calls the honey he collects wildflower honey because there are no identifiable flowers dominating the area where his bees collect their pollen to make honey.
The hives that beekeepers raise are actually boxes that are stacked on each other. The boxes are about 18 inches square and 6 inches high. Each box is open on the top and bottom to allow the bees to move from box to box. Within each box hangs a series of frames on which the bees can build their honeycombs. As the frames in one box fill up with comb and honey, additional boxes are stacked on top.
There are a few ways that beekeepers can start a hive.
They can buy bees and a queen and place them in a hive. They can capture a bee swarm, or as is often the case, they remove a hive from a house.
Beekeepers will also examine the bees in their hives for signs of disease on a regular basis. The big concern is the Varroa Mite, which needs to be kept under control to keep the hive healthy.
Beekeepers are also helping the world. Mites, parasites, and pesticides have reduced the bee population worldwide. They are needed, however, because they pollinate plants and allow things to grow. In the winter, bees weakened by a mite infestation may die, and if there aren’t enough bees to maintain the colony, it will collapse.
“The beekeeper needs to prepare, protect, or manipulate the hives to prevent these problems,” Harbaugh explained.
When the time comes to bottle honey, the frames from the hive are placed in an extractor, which is similar to a large centrifuge and spun. Honey is pulled out of the comb and falls to bottom of extractor, where it drains out a spigot into a bucket.
The result is a tasty treat that many people think has more flavor.
DID YOU KNOW? Here are 15 facts about bees you probably didn’t know.
There are 20,000 bee species, worldwide.
Bees are found on every continent except Antarctica.
Honeybees have hairy eyes.
Honeybees have five eyes: two large compound eyes with hexagonal facets and three small simple eyes.
The honeybee brain is sophisticated even though it is only the size of a grain of sugar.
Some bee species, including honey bees, may have descended from wasps.
All bees in a hive are aware of the presence of their queen bee. If she leaves, the entire colony knows within 15 minutes.
Scent is very important to bees, and they are best at learning new smells in the mornings.
Bees cannot see the color red, but they can see the ultraviolet patterns in flowers, so they do visit red flowers.
Female bees can sting, but male bees cannot sting.
Bees have been trained as bomb detectors and can detect hidden landmines.
Honeybees can be trained to detect illness in the human body.
Honeybees keep the inside temperature of their hives at 93° Fahrenheit.
Bees vibrate their bodies to create body heat to warm up the hive to 93°F if it is cold outside. Bees flap their wings like fans to create a breeze to cool the hive off to 93°F when it is hot outside.
Worker bees do the “waggle dance” to alert their hive sisters about where to find great new sources of water and nectar.