An Exciting New Hobby For Karen: Beekeeping!
Recently, one of our hygienists, Karen, read a fascinating book by Sue Monk Kidd titled, “The Secret Life of Bees.” One of the main parts of the story focuses on beekeeping and honey harvesting. After reading it, Karen started thinking about bees more often. She realized she’d noticed a decline of them in her own backyard and decided to do a little more research. As her interest grew, her family took notice, and her husband and son surprised her with an early Mother’s Day gift: a beehive complete with a package of bees! Thrilled with the start of her new hobby, Karen got to work as an official beekeeper.
The History of Beekeeping
Not much is known about the history of beekeeping, but its origins can be traced as far back as the Fifth Dynasty! Drawings were found on temple walls showing people blowing smoke into beehives while harvesting the honey. There were even sealed pots of honey found with Tutankhamun! It has been documented in many parts of the world throughout history and is still going strong today.
Why Keep Bees?
The purpose of beekeeping is to raise honeybees in order to harvest the honey they produce, improve crop pollination and the population of bees and, as with any hobby, to enjoy the experience.
A typical honeybee lives about 6 weeks and in that lifespan can produce up to 1/12 teaspoon of honey on its own. It doesn’t sound like much, at least not until you add a couple thousand more bees! Karen’s one hive produced 60 pounds of honey! The honey is pure and delicious and can be enjoyed at home or bottled and sold.
Honeybees also produce wax, a result of their own food being converted into the wax comb many people are familiar with. This wax is harvested and used in many products, such as candles. Some cosmetics even contain beeswax. Karen was able to make 18 candles from her hive.
The majority of vegetation on Earth depends on bees to keep growing. Ultimately, taking care of bees is taking care of ourselves. Without bees, not only would we lose the majority of edible flowering crops (broccoli, strawberries, apples, cucumbers, asparagus, etc.) but we’d also be without a lot of food for animals, meaning our livestock for meat and dairy would take a huge hit as well.
Karen’s Beekeeping Experiences
Everyone at Madison Family Dental has been very excited for Karen as she continues to learn about beekeeping and loves hearing all about her experiences, from learning how to harvest the bee’s honey and wax to what protection she wears.
How She Harvests
Karen explained that bees are kept in a special type of hive. Whenever the beekeeper needs to open the hive for any reason, they use smoke to calm the bees down. It is still not quite understood why smoke calms them, but it has been used by beekeepers for thousands of years. Once the hive is open and a frame containing a comb is found ready to harvest, Karen crushes the capped honey into a special draining container equipped with a special spigot that allows the strained honey to be bottled.
Is Beekeeping Dangerous?
“Wearing protective clothing while tending your bees is a must,” Karen explains. “Also, always move slowly and carefully to not startle any of the bees.” Regardless of the precautions they take, however, it is common for beekeepers to be stung. It’s part of the hobby. Unfortunately, no matter how many times you experience a bee sting, it hurts. A honeybee stinger is small, only 1.5mm long, but thankfully the pain doesn’t last too long, and isn’t extremely intense. It does happen, though. Beekeepers need to understand, too, that being stung can cause an allergic reaction, a situation in which your medical doctor must be contacted right away. Again, being cautious and using smoke when entering the hives to calm the bees will greatly reduce your risk of being stung.
If you are stung, be sure you scrape away the stinger with your fingernail. Do not pinch it, as that will release venom. Also be sure to puff some smoke in the area that you were stung and around yourself. Bees can be alerted when another has stung and come to help out their comrade. Puffing smoke around you calms the bees and lessens your chances of additional stings greatly.
Don’t let a bee sting deter you, though! Many beekeepers say you aren’t truly a beekeeper until you’ve been stung at least once. “It’s definitely a small setback for such a rewarding hobby,” Karen says.
Sweet Facts Karen’s Learned From Beekeeping
- The raw honey harvested during beekeeping is extremely healthy — it is believed to have antibacterial and antiseptic properties, has been used to dress wounds for centuries, and is even believed to help with seasonal allergies.
- Never wear dark clothing.
- Don’t swat or swing at the bees. This makes them MORE aggressive and will NOT make them go away. In fact, a bee can fly up to 18 miles an hour — meaning you won’t be able to outrun them.
- There are three types of bees: the queen (lays eggs, directs the whole hive), drones (males: mate with the queen to reproduce) and workers (females: feed brood, make wax comb, store honey, keep the hive clean, gather pollen, and guard the entrance. They pretty much do all the work!)
- The workers deposit honey then beat their wings until the honey is dehydrated to prevent fermentation.
- The queen can produce a pheromone that calms the bees.
Beekeeping is an Intimidating, Yet Rewarding Hobby
To those who are afraid of bees, beekeeping might not be our cup of tea. However, if it sounds like something you’d like to try to help bee population and to harvest your own honey, be sure to ask Karen about her life as a beekeeper next time you’re in for your cleaning! Schedule your appointment with us today!