- Author: Kim Schwind
If beekeeping is one of those things you have always wanted to do, but never had time to pursue, our current period of self-isolation may provide you with the time you need to learn about this exciting hobby.
The amount of time you spend taking care of bees depends on the season of the year and the number of hives you maintain. Beekeepers experience a flurry of activity in spring, maintenance jobs to perform in summer, and harvesting honey and preparing for winter in the fall. When you are new to keeping bees, there is of course a learning curve in the initial seasons.
Understanding the Background
If you are going to raise bees to harvest and sell honey or other consumable products you need to review the Butte County Cottage Food Operators rules to learn about the policies and permits required.
Learning about bee biology and understanding the bee life cycle, nutrition, water requirements, behaviors, and pests and diseases will help you better manage your hives.
Learning from a mentor or taking classes is a good idea. The E.L. Niño Bee Lab at UC Davis offers classes on ‘Planning Ahead for Your First Hive' and ‘Working Your Colonies', among other topics.
You will want to monitor the hive regularly through the summer months to make sure the queen is laying eggs, and you will need to inspect the hive and be able to spot diseases, pests (including Varroa mites) or other problems that could impact the bees' health. In the fall you may be able to harvest honey and then prepare the hive for winter.
Siting the Beehive
Choose a location that has a wind break and is not overly shaded. Dappled sunlight is best. The hive entrance should face southeast to take advantage of the early morning sunlight.
Place the hive in an area that is level and stable. You want to set the hive off the ground on a stand to avoid moisture accumulating in the hive. If you are in an area that has a lot of wildlife, consider installing a wire fence or kennel with a roof to protect the bees from predators like raccoons and skunks. In areas where there are bears you might want to invest in an electric fence.
The standard and most commonly-used hives are Langstroth 10 Frame Hove Boxes. These come in a variety of depths. Keep in mind that you will have to move the boxes around. A deep hive box that's full of comb, bees, and honey can be heavy, weighing over 90 pounds. Medium depth boxes are lighter. These standard hives have interchangeable parts and accessories that are widely available. Also available are top bar hives, usually called Kenyon Top Bar Hives. These hive boxes mimic the cavity of a tree and have individual bars that can be removed for inspection. You will need to research the hive system that is right for you.
In the state of California, you must register your bees with the County Agricultural Commissioner if you have ten or more hives, in accord with Food and Agricultural code 29044. If you have nine hives or less, you are encouraged, but not required, to register your bees to help map the hives. This is critical to the health of both the bees and the state's agricultural sector. The registration fee is just $10.00 a year (go to www.buttecounty.net/agriculturalcommissioner/ or call them at 530-552-4100). You can register online and also enter the location of your bee yard or apiary on the BeeWhere webpage. This pins your bee's location to a map so that if there is a problem with disease or new pests affecting bees, the Agricultural Commissioner can contact you to let you know.
These steps may sound overwhelming. But once you take them and become a beekeeper, you will be fascinated by these beautiful insects. They are simply amazing to watch and learn from!
By Tom Hansen and Jeanne Lawrence, Butte County Master Gardeners, January 4, 2013
Honey bees will be brought to Northern California from all across the US to begin pollinating the almond crop by mid-February. Although almonds don’t have a lot of nectar, they do have a lot of pollen, which allows the bees to build up the strength of their colonies after the arduous journey of travelling across the country.
Honey bees can forage as far away as three to five miles from their colony when conditions are favorable for flight, although most foragers tend to stay within a few hundred yards of the colony if it is near adequate food rewards (nectar and pollen). Honey bees will venture out from their hives when temperatures reach the mid-50s Fahrenheit; they won’t travel far, but they will search for sources of pollen and nectar nearby.
Because honey bee queens are constantly laying eggs and raising their young, these bees need food year-round. Honey bees forage when temperatures are 55 degrees and higher; they do not forage in rain or in wind stronger than 12 miles per hour. Cloudiness also reduces flight activity, especially near threshold temperatures. A honey bee normally flies at a speed of 18 miles per hour empty and 15 miles per hour carrying of load of pollen or nectar. However, if they are agitated and empty, honey bees can fly about 20 miles per hour. They cannot carry a load upwind against much more than a 15 mile-per-hour wind.
Native bees, like bumble bees and mason bees, are solitary and do not live together in hives like honeybees do. Solitary native bees were here long before the arrival of honey bees, which were introduced from Europe in the early 17th century. Native bees lay their eggs throughout the summer and fall and their pupae (young) develop in seclusion during the colder months. They need daytime temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees before they emerge as adults, so they will not begin pollinating until early April, or when daytime temperatures rise. While native bees do not play a significant role in almond pollination, they are critical in pollinating many of our summer fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Different species of pollinators are attracted to different types of flowers (generally those that suit their tongue length), but nearly all types of bees show interest in blue, yellow and ultraviolet hues.
Some guidelines for bee-friendly garden plantings include the following:
- Natural species (rather than hybrids) produce nectar and pollen that is more accessible for bees
- Native flowers can attract solitary bees (like mason bees)
- Grow a variety of species from different plant families
- Try to have something flowering throughout the season
- Plant several of one type of plant together – they will provide a better magnet for the bees
You can help bees out by planting mustards or clover as a cover crop – yellow mustard is one of the earliest blooming flowers that are attractive to honey bees. Native plants and shrubs that are attractive to bees include the California wildflower “Baby Blue Eyes,” and California Desert Bluebells, both of which are annuals; and California Dutchman’s Pipe, an attractive deciduous vine festooned with cream-colored flowers that have red-purple veins.
Non-native plants that are bee-friendly in our area include flowering quince, which is often the first noticeable flowering shrub of the year; the popular evergreen camellia japonica, some varieties of which bloom as early as November; and witch hazel (hamamelis), a yellow-flowering shrub with a distinctive fragrance and intriguing blossoms.
Crocus and hyacinth bulbs are also attractive to bees. These should be planted in November or December after spending 10 weeks chilling in a refrigerator ahead of time (as our climate is too mild to provide them the requisite chill hours) – and, like tulips, these are best treated as annuals in our climate.
When doing your winter garden clean-up, keep the bees in mind: leave some “wild,” messy areas in your yard for bees. For example, old fence posts, dead logs, and decaying sunflower heads all provide native bees with places to hide, nest, and raise their next generation.
Keep other pollinators in mind, too: for instance, instead of using a hummingbird feeder which you might only sporadically keep filled, provide natural nectar at this time of year by planting camellias, flowering quince and flowering currant.
Photo: Honeybee on prune blossom/span>