Q: How did you get started beekeeping?
A: In 1990, my neighbor Curtis had several hives at his back fence abutting Mopac in old Enfield. I used to watch him work the hives. I recall that Curtis rarely had to wear a veil and that the bees were very sweet. I have to say that my hives currently are a bit more aggressive. I have been interested in keeping bees ever since then and finally decided to take the plunge last year after lots of research.
A: There is no basic day for the beekeeper as the work to be done varies upon the season of the year and current weather conditions affecting honey production and hive growth. That being said, I generally check on the hives in the morning for a quick look to check on the conditions. In addition, depending upon the age and condition of each hive, I check the hives monthly for pests and hive conditions. The tending of the hives is seasonal as well. Winter is spent repairing equipment and planning the next year, constructing boxes etc. Spring is time to check hives for disease, damage to boxes, the condition of the queen and the worker bees. It may also be prudent to feed the hives sugar water until we have sufficient natural food sources for the bees in the spring based on our rainfall. If the queen is not producing consistently, we may replace/requeen her. During late spring/summer, you add boxes to capture maximum honey production. Late summer you may also requeen a hive to prepare for the next year, and install additional honey supers, remove full supers and extract honey. In the fall, you get ready for winter, remove remaining honey supers, and make sure each hive has 2 deep supers remaining, one for brood and a full deep of honey for the hive to feed off for the winter. I do not use any chemicals in the hives and rely on keeping the hives clean and healthy to combat disease and pests.
Q: How many hours a week do you spend tending the bees?
A: It is variable. 4 hours max. A lot of the time is spent drinking a cup of coffee in the early morning and watching the bees work!
Q: How much honey do you produce at present?
A: There are 6 hives, so if they produce like last year, production could range from 50-100 pounds of honey per hive, 300-600 pounds total.
Q: What are your plans for growth? Do you want to add more hives?
A: It is a work in progress. I would like to add more hives depending on how the next few seasons go and add a separate location in Travis or a South Texas location for a distinct and separate honey crop.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who might be interested in tending their own bees?
A; Get involved in the local Austin Bee meet up group, read and study beekeeping, subscribe to the Bee Culture magazine and other periodicals, attend local, county and regional Bee Associations meetings and become a member. Be brave, order a package or colony of bees and give it a go!
Q: What is your favorite aspect of having bees?
A: Watching and listening to their productivity. The bees and their hives illustrate the connection between the environment and a living organism. The production of honey is the byproduct of the relationship which is the underlying reason most folks are interesting in beekeeping. Of course, the look on people’s faces when they taste honey that you have produced is very enjoyable. Giving the product to my family, friends and public is the most rewarding part of the hobby.
Q: What are your thoughts on the current decline of honeybee population? Could having beehives like yours in the community aid in repopulating bees?
A: I am unsure of whether the surge in backyard beekeeping will have an impact on the decline of the honeybee population in the United States. The reports of the 50% (or greater losses) in hive populations seem to be reported by commercial apiaries in close proximity to commercial agriculture. I am unsure of the losses that private beekeepers are experiencing nationwide. I am optimistic that the increase in public awareness of the decline of the bee colonies worldwide, now commonly referred as “colony collapse disorder” or CCD, will create public pressure on both governmental agencies such as the USDA and the private agribusiness to continue study of the effect of both pests and pesticides on the health of commercial and private apiaries. My personal opinion is that a decrease and modification in the manner and use of pesticides in agriculture in general would be a positive step. It appears from the majority of scientific studies done on the subject that the use of pesticides has a significant negative effect on the health and foraging behavior of bee hives. There are many competing issues in the discussion of CCD including pesticide use, changing environmental conditions, the impact of human population growth and construction impacting natural habitat; and frequency of global interaction and agricultural products introducing new diseases to USA which did not exist 20 years ago. My intention is to enjoy the bees and deliver the honey to my loved ones!
Herbed Cheese with Pears, Pines Nuts and Honey and the Green Bee cocktail from the W Hotel are recipes that you can use to satisfy your honey cravings. Edible Austin has more information on beekeeping as well as three great honey recipes to try. (Photos above courtesy of Tom Moody) (Cathy)