Why has mankind been so interested in beekeeping over the centuries? You can bet that the first motivator was honey. After all, for many years and long before cane sugar, honey was the primary sweetener in use. It’s no wonder that honey remains the principal draw for many backyard beekeepers.
But the sweet reward is by no means the only reason folks are attracted to beekeeping. For a long time, agriculture has recognised the value of pollination by bees. Without the bees’ help, many commercial crops would suffer serious consequences. Even backyard beekeepers witness dramatic improvements in their gardens’ yields: more and larger fruits, flowers and vegetables. A hive or two in the garden makes a big difference in your success as a gardener.
The rewards of beekeeping extend beyond honey and pollination. Bees produce other products that can be harvested and put to good use, including beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly. Even the pollen they bring back to the hive can be harvested (it’s rich in protein and makes a healthy food supplement in our own diets).
Harvesting liquid gold: Honey
The prospect of harvesting honey is certainly a strong attraction for new beekeepers. There’s something magical about bottling your own honey. Rest assured that no other honey tastes as good as the honey made by your own bees. Delicious!
How much honey can you expect? The answer to that question varies depending on the weather, rainfall, and location and strength of your colony. But producing 100 pounds or more of surplus honey isn’t unusual for a single colony.
Bees as pollinators: Experiencing a more bountiful garden
Any gardener recognises the value of pollinating insects. Various insects perform an essential service in the production of seed and fruit. The survival of plants depends on pollination, and the honey bee accounts for 80 percent of all pollination done by insects. Without the honey bee’s services, more than a third of the fruits and vegetables that humans consume would be lost.
Being part of the bigger picture: Save the bees!
The facts that keeping a hive in the backyard dramatically improves pollination and rewards you with a delicious honey harvest are by themselves good enough reasons to keep bees. But today, the value of keeping bees goes beyond the obvious. In many areas, millions of colonies of wild (or feral) honey bees have been wiped out by urbanisation, pesticides, and parasitic mites, devastating the wild honey bee population. When gardeners wonder why they now see fewer and fewer honey bees in their gardens, it’s because of the dramatic decrease in our wild honey bee population. Backyard beekeeping has become vital in our efforts to reestablish lost colonies of bees and offset the natural decrease in pollination by wild bees.
Getting an education: And passing it on!
As a beekeeper you continually discover new things about nature, bees, and their remarkable social behavior. Just about any school, nature center, garden club, or youth organisation loves for you (as a beekeeper) to share your knowledge. Don’t be surprised to find yourself making the rounds with your slide show and props, sharing the miracle of honey bees with the whole community. Spreading the word to others about the value these little creatures bring to all of us is great fun. You’re planting a seed for our next generation of beekeepers. After all, maybe it was a grade-school presentation on beekeeping or state fair presentation that aroused your interest in honey bees in the first place.
Improving your health: Bee therapies and stress relief
Although you won’t find any scientific studies to confirm it, many beekeepers firmly believe that tending honey bees reduces stress. Working with bees is so calming and almost magical. You feel at one with nature, and whatever problems may have been on your mind tend to evaporate. There’s something about being out there on a lovely warm day, the intense focus of exploring the wonders of the hive, and hearing that gentle hum of contented bees — it instantly puts you at ease, melting away whatever day-to-day stresses that you might find creeping into your life.
Any health food store proprietor can tell you the benefits of the bees’ products. Honey, pollen, royal jelly, and propolis have been a part of healthful remedies for centuries. Honey and propolis (a sticky resinous material that bees collect from trees and plants) have significant antibacterial qualities. Royal jelly (the substance that is secreted from glands in a worker bee’s head and is used to feed brood) is loaded with B vitamins and is widely used overseas as a dietary and fertility stimulant. Pollen is high in high protein and can be used as a homeopathic remedy for seasonal pollen allergies.
Apitherapy is the use of bee products for treating health disorders. Even the bees’ venom plays an important role here — in bee-sting therapy. Venom is administered with success to patients who suffer from arthritis and other inflammatory/medical conditions. This entire area has become a science in itself and has been practiced for thousands of years in Asia, Africa, and Europe.