Last evening I attended a monthly beekeeping meeting and took a step toward my desire to add honeybees to my food forest.
Honeybees are a pollinators with a plus, they are food hoarders and we are big enough to periodically steal their stash. Us and the bears (more about that later). Bees are not without their defenses, so it does take a little effort to coexist with honeybees without succumbing to their protective armies. This is war and it is best if I win.
At the same time, it is a science project with amazing social creatures as its focus. Just watching honeybees is interesting, and listening to the people in the group talk about honeybee behavior and the differences in hive behavior was fascinating. Not to mention anatomy, disease, and all things that pique my interest as a biologist.
No one can discount the value of honeybees as primo pollinators, but the real impetus to beekeeping will always be golden honey. As a cook, no sugar equals honey, although maple syrup has its own appeal, and I never sneer at oatmeal-molasses bread. Honey is also a medicinal, and has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
First order of business is honeybee home construction. Another area where I need more skill! Dang me, if I learn to build honeybee housing, will I move up to building my own house? Lucky for me, one of our members lives out here in the mountains, a neighbor as that is measured out here (less than 15 miles), and he is going to teach me how to build 2 hives at a time from 1×12 and 1×4 lumber. This is the most exciting outcome of the entire meeting. I will have two hives this summer like on the plan! That’s Plan A, not like how I sometimes have to shift to Plan B… or C… or Z… and back to AA. Flexibility is important and obviously I enjoy the planning process.
I have tried reading beekeeping books but it makes the process seem hard enough to discourage newbies and keep the prices of market economy honey up. My cohorts recommended Beekeeping for Dummies as the best starter book, so I will order that today, along with tiny bottles for my essential oil experiments, and new seal rings for my pressure canners.
Honey is another way to harvest the produce from my plantings, and honeybees are a natural adjunct to gardening and an orchard. Even though my native pinyon-juniper forest does not look like a commercial orchard, with light management, it is essentially a pinyon nut grove, and with pinyon nuts selling at $20/pound, a possible source of income now that I no longer work 6 days a week for my old boss. Even without that, having a mature and self-sustaining source of protein, nutrients, and oil is important.
One of my cohorts in the meeting has 2 acres and her husband is an organic farmer on only about 1/8 acre! He also has raised beds, and I mentioned hugelkultur to lower water usage and she was excited about that. She was telling me that he sells all produce to local restaurants and gave me exciting information as well.
All this because a friend suggested I go on Meetup.com and find like minded folks to hang out with. Gotta love the internet.
People are very generous with their knowledge, and I will be a willing recipient of the beekeeping group’s knowledge and expertise. As I gain skill in beekeeping, I will share that with newcomers. The honey? I suspect a few people I know will get a taste of that miracle of bee production… honey.