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How to Start Beekeeping For Free
After more than half a century, beekeeping has suddenly become popular again.
Bees are in the news for all the wrong reasons: colony collapse, pesticide poisoning and parasitic mites – and all this bad news seems to have made people want to help and nurture these all-important insects. We do not yet fully understand all of our scientific advances, but we know that we cannot live without them.
Ever since I can remember, beekeepers have been portrayed by the media as harmless, goofy old men (mostly), who do strange things with strange wooden beehive boxes and are dressed in questionable clothing. However, this image is beginning to change, with more and more women and young people attracted to the idea of learning this ancient craft, and a new urgency is in the air for the important role our bees play as pollinators as well as their conservation. for himself.
When people first consider beekeeping, their first port of call is often their local beekeeping association. Here they will almost always be met with a friendly welcome and a great deal of technical chatter in ‘old hands’, much of which will at first seem like a foreign language. When translated verbatim, it appears that buying one’s ticket into this mysterious world requires one to part with an exorbitant amount of money: glossy catalogs full of shiny devices are attractive, but accompanying price lists can do. There was a strong shock.
Many are put off by the idea at this point.
But it should not be so. It is entirely possible to become a beekeeper – even a great beekeeper – without blowing a good chunk of one’s hard-earned savings. In fact, I’m going to show you, you can do it for free!
The next hurdle a beekeeper faces is the heavy weights that are expected to be lifted and carried. Using conventional equipment, you must be able to deadlift at least 50 pounds (about 25 kg) from ground level – not worth the effort if you’re lightly built and not used to box-shifting in that class.
Again, it doesn’t have to be: I’ll show you how the least fit person can become a beekeeper. In fact, using my system, you can even do hive work from a wheelchair.
Another hurdle that can dampen the enthusiasm of a new beekeeper is storage space. Using traditional hives, you can’t fail to accumulate all kinds of ‘extras’ – odd-shaped boxes, frames, roofs, extractors – all kinds of stuff that ‘old hands’ forgot to mention at that first, exciting meeting – and you’ll need it. A place to store it. We’re talking garage space, folks. Once again I have good news: follow my system and you won’t need any extra storage space, because everything can be stored in the hive itself.
So what does it really take to be a beekeeper?
The essentials are simple enough: some kind of beehive, a hat and veil, an old, white shirt and – at the very least – some gloves – and the agreement of the people who will share your living space. It doesn’t matter whether you live in the city or the country, as long as there is an abundant and varied supply of flowering plants from early spring. In fact, bees do well in well-gardened, urban areas in the ‘green desert’ of modern, industrial farms.
Like many newbie beekeepers, I started with a traditional, framed hive—with the sloping outer box familiar from children’s books. Soon, I bought more and realized that if I wanted to continue down this road, I would have to build myself a large shed to house all the extra woodworking and other equipment that was rapidly accumulating – and I would have it. To find a way to pay for all the ‘extras’ I need soon.
At this point I asked myself – does it really have to be this way? – and that innocent question led me on a quest of reading, study and experimentation that showed me conclusively that, no – it doesn’t have to be: beekeeping doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive or dependent on machine-made parts. and equipment.
My search for an alternative approach led me to the bar top hive – one of the oldest and simplest forms of beekeeping – which requires little skill and few tools to build. A great start on the path to sustainable simplicity, but is this a practical hive for modern beekeeping?
After a few years of experimenting and testing different designs, I believe I now have the top bar hive design that is easy to build, practical and productive, as well as convenient and easy to use for bees and beekeepers.
So what are top bar hives?
The principle is simple: a box with sticks on top, to which the bees attach their combs. The mine has a central, side entrance, sloping sides and ‘follower boards’ to surround the colony. There are many variations on this theme and all have the essential guiding principle of simplicity of construction and management. No frames, no queen excluders, no ics, no mouse guards, no supers, no foundations and no need for extractors, settling tanks, filters, de-capping knives… in fact no other equipment is needed or storage space provided in the hive itself. In addition to being done. And if you’ve spent an hour leafing through suppliers’ catalogs, wondering how you can afford to keep bees, there’s some relief!
Building a top bar hive is no more difficult than building shelves and can be done using hand tools and recycled wood. Top Bar beekeeping really is ‘beekeeping for everyone’ – including people with disabilities, bad backs or those who don’t want to lift boxes: once your hives are in place, there’s no lifting, as the honey is harvested one hive at a time. From the bees’ point of view, top bar hives offer shelter from the weather, the opportunity to build combs of their own design – without the obstacles of man-made wax foundations – and minimal disturbance, thanks to the ‘leave it alone’ style of management. .
So where do you get bees?
You can buy or catch them or if you are lucky they will adopt you! Catching or baiting a swarm is by far the most fun – and it’s a lot easier than you think. Bees swarm in response to their propensity to reproduce – mostly in spring and early summer – and the swarm is certainly effective in flight. However, contrary to popular belief, this is the time when they are most likely to sting you: their only concern at that moment is finding a new place to live. So if you give them the right accommodation at the right time – such as a pleasant-smelling, warm beehive – they are likely to leave of their own accord. Many people become good beekeepers by using a few drops of citronella or lemon grass oil or rubbing the inside of the hive with pure beeswax.
Catching a swarm isn’t difficult – hold a basket or cardboard box under their football-sized cluster on a tree branch and give it a good shake! It’s not always that easy, but getting a cat out of a tree is rarely difficult.
If you think you want to keep bees, I suggest you first get to know a local beekeeper who would like you to visit their bees. Most beekeepers’ associations have ‘meet the bees days’ in the spring, giving newcomers a chance to see inside a hive and test their responses to being surrounded by bees.
And the sting? Yes, no matter how careful you are, you will get bitten from time to time. Local swelling, redness and itching are a common reaction: weakness, difficulty breathing and collapse are symptoms of a true allergy and are potentially life-threatening. Most people who keep bees become less sensitive to stings over time, but sometimes it reverses, and sometimes an experienced beekeeper can develop a sudden allergy. So if there’s any reason to think you’re sensitive to bee venom (only about 1 in 200 people are) be sure to carry Benadryl or an EpiPen (adrenaline injection), or make sure whoever you’re with is properly equipped. Emergency
Whether you look at it from a conservation, entomology, crop pollination, or just a love of honey standpoint, beekeeping is a fascinating pursuit and a fascinating window into the natural world.
Bees are in trouble right now – pesticides, industrial agriculture, pollution, parasitic mites and viruses – and we need all the ‘natural’ beekeepers that can increase their numbers and give them a chance to solve their own problems. So, if you want to keep bees, get yourself a hive before swarming season and you’ll be tasting your own honey by the end of summer!
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