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From the Spring Home and Garden magazine: "OUT OF THE ORDINARY"

What's that buzz? Beekeeping in your backyard

By Jan Youngquist

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[May 05, 2014]  You love nature and everything about it. You are intrigued by all that goes on in your yard with the unfurling of spring leaves and fragrant blossoms; you marvel at those cute little green tree frogs that sing with such bravado. You are enchanted by fanciful koi swirling in your garden pond and dragonflies that flit about; and you are familiar with the rituals of hummingbirds and other birds and creatures as they come to your yard and to your feeders. You love to watch nature in action and enjoy it all.

You aim to create habitats of interest and have added, or have on your list, birdhouses and feeders, bat or butterfly houses, and other attracters of intriguing biological activity. But, how about something even more different?

Maybe you enjoyed reading the beneficial insects article in this magazine. Well, here's one for you that tops them all. Have you ever considered keeping bees?

It is easy to add a beehive to your yard, though admittedly, your neighbors might not all be thrilled if they knew. So you may have to consider painting the hive in camouflage.

Einstein once postulated that if the bees died, we'd starve in 10 years. Pollination by bees is estimated to affect as much as one-third of our food supply. We not only eat fruits, vegetables and some grains that are produced through pollination, but the livestock and poultry that we eat are also fed by these foods that are related to pollination. For example, clover needs to be pollinated to produce seed to grow new clover. Cows eat clover.

Besides playing a big part in our food chain, bees are entertaining. We all know that bees are fascinating creatures  "busy as a bee"  with every bee colony supported by a highly sophisticated hierarchy of position and purpose, from slave to the one and only queen per hive, to the minions of specific-duty laborers. The activity at a hive offers hours of entertainment to the diligent observer.

Keeping a hive is primarily a low-maintenance activity, and it offers sweet dividends too.

One of the more sensitive times to check a hive is toward the end of winter to see how the food reserves are holding up. If the food supply has dwindled, it may be necessary to feed your bees with some of the reserved honey or a "simple syrup."

Along with hosting a home for highly valued insects essential to seed and fruit production, you might even "bee" starting a new family heritage.

The Leonard family in southern Logan County is in its fourth generation as beekeepers, with the next generation in the wings for training. Corey Leonard said that while his soon-to-be 6-year-old son is a little too young yet, Clay likes the bees and is allowed to help in some of the safer processes. Corey's dad, Don, has been raising bees for 25 years.

Don has been surprised the past couple of years, given the poor weather conditions and drought, how the honey production has been relatively good, at 800 and 600 pounds a year. The family typically hosts approximately seven hives.

The winter just past was hard on bees, and there were a lot of losses related to the cold; some starved, some froze. Also, bees won't defecate in the hive. There were not enough warm days of 40 to 50 degrees when the bees could get out.

Another thing that Don suggests is to vent a hive. During the winter, you can open a hive and find bees frozen in a block of crystals. Venting helps to prevent condensation.

Rich Ramsey of the Illinois State Beekeepers Association spoke in Lincoln this spring during the Russel Allen Garden Day, sponsored by University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners. Ramsey shared these bits about bees:

  • Bees collect pollen to feed the young that are in the hive near the queen. They also collect nectar, which after digestion becomes honey used for food and for storage in the hive.

  • A bee will return again and again to the same food source and will not change until that resource has dried up. If you see a bee on an apple blossom, that same bee will continue on apple blossoms and not go to another type of blossom.

  • A bee makes as many as 500 trips a day to the hive.

  • You should plant for bloom times in succession. Plant in masses or bundled areas to aid the bees in efficiency.

  • A bee can travel up to a 2-mile radius of the hive.

  • One of many oddities: You can move a hive 2 feet or 2 miles. If you move it more than 2 feet, the bees can't find it, because bees use landmarks like trees to find the hive.

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  • Avoid the use of pesticides and herbicides.

  • If you must, such as with cucumber and pumpkin blossoms, dust with Sevin in the evening, after the bees have gone to bed.

  • Avoid the use of fungicides.

  • Bees love blooms from weeds like dandelions and clovers.

  • Bees need daily water. Sources that do well: a garden pond, troughs with moss on the side, and flat dishes with a few sticks for landing and kept filled with water.

  • The phrase "a bee's space" comes from bees filling any three-eighths-inch space with honey; they will fill larger or smaller spaces with wax.

  • Honey will never spoil if it's kept dry at 18 percent humidity or less.

  • When handled properly, bees are not a threat. A bee doesn't hurt you unless it feels threatened, which might include if it runs into you.

  • If a bee stings you, it dies afterward. It is best to scrape away a stinger.

  • A true allergic response is if a person's throat swells. It is important for anyone who is allergic to a bee sting to carry an EpiPen.

  • Approximately $100 will get you a box of starter honeybees.

Don't forget the sweet side of bees, the honey. Honey can be substituted for sugar. Ramsey offered these tips for baking: Replace half the sugar with honey  it takes less fluid in the recipe  and turn oven temperature back 25 degrees (or your cookies will likely turn black).

Logan County has several beekeepers offering local honey, including Nathan Sasse with Sasse's Apiary, Chestnut. You can find his products in local stores.

The Leonards' honey can be purchased at either Corey's Shelter Insurance office, 511A Pulaski Street in Lincoln, or his sister Sue Wakeman's business, Sue's Salon in Mount Pulaski.


Information and sources to get you started at being a beekeeper:

"Gardening for Honey Bees"
An exhaustive list of plant materials that attract bees

All about getting started raising bees
From the University of Georgia

"How to start an Urban Beehive"

Find recipes and learn more about honey
National Honey Board

Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
An Illinois supplier in Fairmount, east of Champaign

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