I became interested in beekeeping four years ago when I lived in Denver. It is a popular hobby and there is a great community there for beekeepers. Apiculture is the study of beekeeping. While these articles will cover some highlights, there are dozens of beekeeping books and online resources available to the average person with a local library or internet connection. The greatest resource is a local beekeeper or guild. From a survival or self-reliance perspective, bees produce a number of excellent products with very little effort on the part of their human managers. This concept passes the Rule of Survival Thermodynamics, a term coined by Ragnar Benson in Urban Survival. In a nutshell, Survival Thermodynamics is a critically important rule to remember: never burn more calories than you receive from your food gathering efforts. It emphasizes trapping and gardening rather that hunting or foraging to maximize the return on caloric investment.
Without bees, the world dies. Their pollination activities prevent the complete global collapse of agriculture. Commercial beekeepers rent and transport thousands of beekeeping hives to California’s central valley and other regions to feed the world. While honey collection has been documented for 15,000 years, efforts to domesticate bees can be documented as far back as the ancient Egyptians. This domestication made a huge leap forward by the achievements of Lorenzo Langstroth, an American pastor and apiarist, who invented the Langstroth hive. This allowed the mass production of hives engineered for a higher degree of successful colony establishment.
Successful beekeeping is part science, part art, and a good deal of luck. For me that is a big draw to the hobby. No matter how knowledgeable and hard you work at it, the bees can still surprise you. It requires an estimated 40 hours of maintenance work per year on the hives. While learning about beekeeping, there are a few quotes that I would like to share at the outset:
“Ask two beekeepers the same question and you will get 4 different answers”
“No one knows more about beekeeping than a two year veteran. Just ask him/her”
“People get into beekeeping for the bees and get out of beekeeping for the honey”
This last point should be emphasized. If successful, you will be harvesting a lot of honey. Potentially 150 pounds of honey per hive per year.
What does a hive produce? The most common response is honey. It never spoils and produces 304 kcal/100g. Beeswax from the melted honeycomb can be used to produce beautiful candles, balms, and lotions. Propolis is the glue that bees use to seal up the hive. It is used in tinctures and has both antimicrobial and anticancer properties. Pollen can also be harvested as a protein substitute. People use all these products for food, to combat allergies and burns, and numerous other applications.
I’ll cover hive designs, expectations, urban considerations, pests, and gear in the next article: Survival Beekeeping Part 2. Stay tuned.