What’s the buzz on bees?
10.19.21 Lindsey Hellenbrand
Did you know pollinated foods represent one in every three bites of food we eat?1 Pollinators are an important part of agriculture. Without pollinators like honeybees, the crops farmers grow and the food we eat would diminish. This is one of the reasons I got into bee keeping.
I’ve been involved with agriculture my entire life, starting with my 4-H days showing dairy cattle at the local fair. So, the opportunity to help sustain food production by tending to these fascinating insects was very intriguing to me.
I officially took the leap into bee keeping in the spring of 2020, purchasing equipment and bees for three hives. Since then, I’ve been researching, learning and caring for the hives with my fiancé and dad.
Here’s a peek into the ins and outs of this important and unique aspect of the agriculture industry:
1. Completing hive checks.
Every week or two, we check the hives to make sure they are happy and healthy. We feed them sugar water during the spring and fall to help them survive when pollen is not as abundant in Wisconsin. During the summer, we check to make sure there’s a queen laying eggs and to see if the growing hive needs more space. If so, that’s when we start adding boxes for surplus honey! A honeybee’s life span is only around 30 days, so it’s essential the queen keeps laying eggs for a prosperous hive.
2. Extracting the honey.
When we are lucky enough to have a honey surplus, we can extract the honey from the comb. Bees store the honey in the wax comb, and when it’s the perfect consistency (less than 20% water content), they cap it with a wax seal. Then, we remove this wax capping and spin the honey out of the comb. This keeps the bees hard at work building comb for next year and allows us to use the excess honey they produced.
3. Preparing the hive for winter.
Bees naturally prepare for winter by storing honey for feed. The queen will slow down egg production, and winter bees who live longer are born. Surviving winter in Wisconsin is hard for bees, so we help give them the best chance by feeding sugar water, creating wind blocks and insulating the hive. Bees will cluster in the winter to protect themselves and the queen. By creating this cluster, they keep the hive around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This creates moisture in the hive, so we also add a moisture box with wood shavings to collect excess moisture.
The sweet reward of harvesting honey is not guaranteed, but when there’s a surplus, it’s so worthwhile to have the naturally sweet treat to enjoy and share with family and friends.
And that sweet treat has recently turned into the start of our new brand — Sweet Bee Shack & Company. Working in marketing, the ideas were flowing before the honey was. After our first honey harvest this fall, I started a Facebook page and got busy designing labels. It’s fun to bring my work skills into my hobby.