honey bee management

All beekeeping challenges are local

Last night I was fortunate to meet Fritz Haeg, author of Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn (www.fritzhaeg.com). After an open-to-the-public lecture on edible landscapes and animal estates, Haeg led our classroom through an informal discussion of art, architecture, and vegetable gardens.

Haeg is funny, articulate, and brimming with fresh ideas on Americans and their relationship to the land. One of the things that rang especially true with me was his take on “growing intelligence.” He told a story of how an elderly couple in Austin shared their cumulative gardening experience—spanning 140 man-years—with some young people who wanted to learn how to raise vegetables in Austin. Haeg stressed that growing vegetables in Austin is very different than growing them anywhere else. As he put it, “all the challenges are local.”

That phrase, so eloquently stated by Haeg, is my beekeeping philosophy in a nutshell. Our nation has a great diversity of ecosystems, and beekeeping practices have to match the local environment to be successful. As I stated in an earlier post, the one-size-fits-all method simply does not work. Gardeners and beekeepers ask the same types of questions: When do I plant? When do I super? When do I water? When do I harvest? When do I feed? The answer to all these questions lies in your local environment.

Every list I have ever seen of supplies needed by a beekeeper includes hives, protective clothing, smokers, and hive tools. The first three items on my beekeeper list are entirely different. You need a calendar, a map of the USDA hardiness zones, and a field guide to the plants in your area.

As a beekeeper, you have to learn where your bees are going to find pollen and nectar, and when those supplies will be available. For example, my main bee yard is in the woods in hardiness zone 8 in a region with long wet winters and short dry summers. The bees start foraging for pollen very early on red alder, big-leaf maple, and vine maple. The honey crop comes early, too, from cascara, bitter cherry, and maple. If I don’t have a honey crop by the end of June, I’m not getting one.

Not five miles away I have an outyard in a meadow. Those bees collect from wild flowers, dandelions, fruit trees, and mints. They start later and keep going longer. They swarm later. Honey comes in for an extra month. My maintenance schedule for those hives is entirely different.

My advice to beekeepers is simple: Learn about your local nectar- and pollen-producing plants. Learn when they bloom. Know your rainfall patterns. And above all, remember that “all the challenges are local.”

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