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Could You, Should You Keep Bees

March 19th, 2009

Obviously, if you are reading this, you are thinking about keeping bees. There are any number of positive reasons for keeping bees, but I think we might consider some of the negatives. Here are some reasons why you might decide not to keep bees.

First, bees sting. Honey bees give you little love stings that smart a little and bother you a little, but aren’t like wasp stings and in fact are not much more annoying than a mosquito bite. If you don’t want to be stung, don’t keep bees. If the prospects of feeling a little pain are too frightening, then you will not be happy keeping bees. Sure, you can wear bee suits and full body bee armor, but you will be stung and you probably will be stung every time you open your hive, even with a bee suit.

If there is anyone nearby who is allergic to bee stings then don’t raise bees. Honey bees don’t bother most people, but that bratty neighbor kid is going to go into anaphylactic shock if he gets stung and the best way to do that is tell him to stay away from the bees. If you are a member of your family is allergic don’t do it. If a neighbor finds you have bees and a child is stung by a wasp you will be blamed anyway and probably sued. Bees work best when there are no people around to drag them into court. If you live in a crowded neighborhood keep your bees secret.

Some people don’t like bees and don’t want bees around. They will claim to be allergic or they will find some health department rule to keep you from keeping bees. You hives should be well hidden from neighbors. If you live in the midst of nasty people, consider some other hobby.

You have to have a good place to put the hive. It should be 100 feet from your doorway, driveway and front walk. The bees probably won’t bother you, but if the hive is close, you could get into problems. Bees like the smell of perfume and you great aunt who drenches herself in Obsession will find some bee friends that are very interested in her as she waits for you at the front door. It is hardly ever an issue, but it is best if the bees don’t live too close. You can keep bees on a 1/8 acre lot, but it is best if you have a little room.

You need a secluded place where young boys won’t be tempted to tip the hive or throw rocks at it. You need a place where raccoons and bears and even the occasional deer will not bother the hive. It needs a nice sunny exposure, especially in the winter, but it should be out of the wind.

If you keep bees you can’t use insecticides on your lawn, shrubs or trees. The insecticides will kill the bees. If you live in a neighborhood where everyone wants to pour toxic chemicals on their lawns, you bees will not thrive. Your lawn should contain wild flowers and clover. Don’t treat it with chemicals. Don’t mow it very often. You want a flowery meadow when you have bees, not a well manicured lawn.

You have to understand that it is against the law to sell honey without a permit from the board of health and regular inspections. You can sell a few jars at garage sales and flea markets and you can give honey as presents, but as soon as you start selling enough to make a good profit you will be fined for not following very stringent health and food quality laws. You will not get rich easily from raising bees in your back yard.

Bees aren’t cheap. You can get started for about $250. You may never get that much back selling honey at the church bazaar. You have to spend money on bee medicine and you probably will get more wood ware as the hive grows. You may want to split your hive and have to buy more equipment. You should expect to make back your investment in satisfaction rather than a concrete return on investment.

Bees are a hefty investment in time. Mostly the bees raise themselves, but you have to check them almost every day. You have to feed them, medicate them, and monitor their progress. You have to be aware that the hive could die very quickly, and they could also grow very quickly causing swarms which will not go over big with your neighbors. You have to harvest the honey, but not leave the bees destitute or the hive will die. You have to feed them in the winter so they won’t starve.

Bees require an investment in education. You have to read books and search web pages and ask a lot of questions. You have to be a hive expert and you need to get this expertise before your hive dies. You have to be armed with lots of knowledge even before you get your first 3 pound box of bees. If you don’t think that you need much mental effort and you can breeze through this, then don’t get started.

Beekeeping is a continuing project. It is not something that you start and then give up on. The hive is alive and you have a responsibility to maintain the hive or find someone else to take it. The bees learn to recognize the beekeeper and, although they are not like pets, the beekeeper and the bees will have a bond. It was once believed that if the beekeeper died the bees would miss the person and the hive would fail. The poem Telling The Bees by John Greenleaf Whittier is about telling the hive that their mistress has died. Be prepared to commit yourself to your hive. You must give it name and talk to her so the bees know you.

If you have read all of this and you still want to raise bees, then good for you. Bees are very cool.