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SANDY WALKER WRITES
We didn't start keeping bees as a first step toward urban homesteading or down-home sustainability. We started because our oldest son, Aaron, read that eating local honey was good for people prone to springtime allergies. He was one of those people, and wanted to test the theory with his own honey. (Full disclosure: He was interested in beekeeping before then. The allergy idea was his catalyst.) He read books about beekeeping, then purchased an active hive from a retiring beekeeper.
The next spring he got a lovely batch of delicious honey and began adding hives. After having some issues with Langstroth hives (the stacked-box hives most commonly seen in this country), and losing a couple of hives during the winter, Aaron built a horizontal top-bar hive. A top-bar hive looks like a covered manger on stilts. It's a little easier to work with and easier to reach since it sits up off the ground. (The photo at the top shows a top-bar hive.)
Shortly after that, Aaron married and moved to Scotland. We inherited his hives and became beekeepers. I can't say that we've been particularly successful as beekeepers. We've harvested more beeswax that we have honey. We learned the hard way that Roundup kills honeybees. We lost two more hives during the winter, and had a couple of hives swarm and move on. That's the bad news.
There is good news. We have learned much about beekeeping and the importance of helping bees survive in an increasingly difficult environment that includes widespread use of pesticides and potentially-harmful herbicides. As growers of fruit trees, we now understand the delicate balance between keeping the blossoms safe for bees to pollinate, and keeping pests out of the fruit. We're learning the value of bee-friendly pesticides. After a time of seeing very few pollinators in our garden, we now have an abundance of them.
Beekeeping has also provided some really interesting stories. Twice my husband has successfully captured someone else's hives that had swarmed. The first one settled among the honeysuckle entwined in the chain-link fence at the back of our property. Michael donned protective gear and began to methodically and carefully extract chunks of bee-encrusted honeysuckle vines. He worked while I stood by snapping pictures and urging him to be careful. Things got intense when he said, "Oh, blast. There's a bee inside my pant leg!" He calmly continued snipping bee-laden vines. The bee apparently decided she'd taken a wrong turn, turned around, and exited the way she had come!
The biggest benefit of beekeeping has been the satisfaction of knowing that we're helping--in a very small way--to stem the tide of drastically-declining numbers of bees in this country. In the process, we have a well-pollinated garden and the joy of watching, and learning about, these fascinating creatures. Occasionally, we also get to taste some of their honey. Beekeeping has been the important first step for us along the road to down-home sustainability.
I'm Sandy . . .
I write crisp, accurate, engaging copy and content marketing for my B2B and B2C clients. My favorite topics are vacation rentals, urban homesteading, sustainability, and inspirational posts.