honey bee management

Well, it depends . . .

The answer to most beekeeping questions should start with the words, “It depends.” The one-size-fits-all answer simply doesn’t work very often or very well.

People keep bees for a myriad of reasons. For example, some commercial beekeepers sell honey while others provide pollination services. Some breed bees, raise queens, or sell packages. A farmer might keep enough hives for his farm, or a homeowner might want a few bees to pollinate the garden and produce a jar of honey. Then there are hobbyists who just really enjoy bees; these folks are intrigued by the intricate dance between plant and pollinator that keeps our planet green.

The management options for these groups are different. They have to be. We can learn the most about bees—and beekeeping—by keeping an open mind to the goals and problems of each group. Yes, there are those of us who go to great effort to spare every bee when we enter a hive. We brush them aside, shoo them away, talk to them in reassuring tones. We are, in fact, nuts. But a commercial beekeeper with 1500 hives simply doesn’t have time for the same light touch. He or she is a businessperson with deadlines, contracts, and responsibilities. The commercial beekeeper keeps food on all our tables, but does he care any less about his bees? Absolutely not.

I am often bothered by the tension between hobbyist and commercial beekeepers. There is much to be learned from either side as long as we understand the differences. Both sides can add to our overall understanding of why the bees are in trouble and how we can help them in the future. Think about it: we are all on the same side.

Honey Bee Suite


    • Raul,

      Every time someone says they are going to read every post, I am amazed. After this one, you’ve got just 1400 to go!

  • Ok, I have been reading about the decline in bees. I will preface this by saying I know little about them. I had a high school chem teacher who was a huge beekeeper. I read that the Cheerios seed give away wasn’t a good one. My question is this: what can I do to help? I live in a small town on a half acre city lot. I want to plant a bee friendly yard, and the newest craze is those Mason jar hives. (I should add that I am allergic to the sting, although the stings I end up in ER with are from wasps). It seems all I see anymore are wasps. Do they drive out the bees? Would a small garden help the pollinators? Aside from “every little bit helps”, what can one person do?

    • Deb,

      Planting nectar- and pollen-rich flowering plants is the single best thing you can do for bees. There was nothing wrong with the Cheerio seed packet idea, but they made some unfortunate choices in seed selection. Some of the species they included are invasive in some parts of the country.

      But there are many good choices you can plant. Remember the bees that are imperiled are not honey bees, but native bees. Usually, native plants are best for native bees.

      I don’t know what you mean by “Mason jar hives,” so I can’t comment on that. Most of the native bees are reluctant to sting, and many of them cannot manage to sting a human even if they wanted to. Wasps and bees can live in the same areas. They use different food sources, so they don’t really complete. Keepers of honey bees sometimes have trouble with social wasps, but generally wasps do not drive out native bees (although some are parasitic on them).

      Yes, a small garden will help pollinators. Even a couple flower pots of flowers can help because they provide “rest areas” where bees can stop during the search for mates or food sources. A water source can help too. A dish of marbles and water gives bees a place to stand so they don’t drown.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I’m just writing to let you know that I made it through all 220 pages (!!) of your blog and can safely say it’s the best beekeeping reference I’ve found. Thank you for your years of sharing and conversation!

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