Anyone who is thinking of taking up beekeeping should begin with learning as much as possible about these fascinating insects, including what bees make honey and which ones don't. This includes information about beekeeping basics, the beekeeping year and what bees make honey. This can help you make several important decisions about your colony such as its location, the number of hives you'll have, and which type of bee you want to raise
Once you know what bees make honey, their characteristics, and how they make honey, you can get started with setting up your own bee colony. For beginners, it’s best to start out with a full beekeeping kit from a supplier. Local suppliers are also an excellent source of knowledge about beekeeping and the different bees you'll see in the area.
What Bees Make Honey?
Not all bees produce honey. In fact, there are around 20,000 bee species worldwide, but only a few of these produce the honey we consume. The bumblebee, for instance, though it Is a bee, does not make the honey we use. Knowing what bees make honey, and some of their characteristics, can help you understand the basics of beekeeping.
Bees are native to Asia and Europe, and it was European settlers who brought bees to the Americas. Worldwide, there are only about seven species, and about 49 subspecies, of bees that make the honey we humans eat, but we only find five species of these species throughout North America:
1. Italian Bees, Or Apis Mellifera Ligustica
As their name suggests, these bees are originally from Italy. These are yellow and a popular species among beekeepers. They are relatively gentle and easy to care for because their colonies grow quickly in the spring. They overwinter well but may need extra feeding during winter months because their food stocks sometimes get depleted.
2. Carniolan Bees, Or Apis Mellifera Carnica
These bees are gray and brown and have their origins in Europe, specifically in the Austrian Alps and the Danube valley. They are gentle and overwinter well, conserving their store of honey. When spring arrives, the hive population builds up quickly, and they swarm frequently.
3. Caucasian Bees, Or Apis Mellifera Caucasica
The color of these bees is lead gray and their origins are in the Caucasus mountains. They are gentle but run out of winter food supplies, so you must supplement it for them. Their colonies build up slowly in the spring, and they don’t swarm frequently.
4. German black Bees, Or Apis Mellifera Mellifera
These bees are brown and black and originate in northern Europe. They were the first honey bees in North America and derive their name from the German settlers who brought them. They are nervous and aggressive. They overwinter well, but the colonies grow slowly.
5. Africanized Honeybee, Or Apis Mellifera Scutellata
These bees are yellow and black. They are hybrids produced by the merging of African bees with the Western honey bee. This bee species was brought to Brazil and the bees have migrated north, spreading to Mexico and the United States. They are more defensive and respond quickly to any disturbance. They swarm frequently and have smaller nests. In terms of honey production, they are more industrious than other species. Beekeepers who master the art of handling this species prefer them for the higher yields of honey. Over time and through selective breeding, however, their behavior has become gentler.
Bees & Beekeeping Information
Beekeeping is an art, and one which thousands of people find fascinating. Beekeepers who start with packaged bees will most likely get Italian or Carniolan bees. These are two of the most popular varieties in the United States. Once you know what bees make honey, the next step is to determine what equipment you will need, and to learn about the process of making and collecting honey.
To determine whether to take up beekeeping, it’s best to learn as much about these insects and their lives so you understand how the whole process works. From learning what bees make honey to how different flowers and plants affect the taste of honey, beekeeping is a fascinating and rewarding hobby and for many, a profession. Local suppliers and beekeeping groups can offer all kinds of useful information for beginners.
What Is Honey?
Honey is the food that bees make for themselves from the nectar they collect from flowers. These could be flowers from trees, shrubs or typical garden plants. Honeybees are one of the few insects that don’t hibernate in the winter. So they store honey to supply themselves with food over the winter when there are no flowers to make more food.
Honey bees collect nectar from flowers nearby, up to a distance of four miles from their hive. Nectar is mixed with enzymes from the bees to make honey, which the bees store in their honeycomb. In the comb, the honey loses its water content. The bees speed this process by fanning the comb with their wings. Once the nectar has become honey, it gets sealed with wax. The high sugar content keeps the honey from going bad.
Luckily for all other creatures who love honey, the bees make a huge surplus amount of honey. This is what beekeepers remove from the hive for human use. In fact, one secret to successful beekeeping is being able to know how much honey to take and how much to leave for the bees’ own needs over the winter. A successful hive can produce as much as 40 or 50 pounds of surplus honey every year, so there's bound to be enough for you as well.
In the U.S., honey made from orange blossoms and the flowers of the sourwood tree of the Appalachians are popular, as is honey made from clover, eucalyptus, blueberry, sage, avocado, and even cactus flowers. Like wine and whiskey, honey has its own terroir, deriving its taste from local conditions.
Spring is the best season to start your colony. The flowering trees will provide plenty of food sources for your bees as the colony builds up its numbers. Most beginners start with one or two hives. That’s an easier number to handle and you can track the progress of each hive, and supplement the weaker hive with frames and honey from the one that is doing better.
Basic Beekeeping Equipment And Tasks
The dimensions and design of man-made beehives are designed to make the bees feel more at home. You will also need feeding stations and also a water supply to keep your bees from gathering at nearby swimming pools or ornamental ponds. Water supply for bees should have small objects like wood chips or even styrofoam pellets floating on top. This will keep the bees from drowning. The busiest times of the year for bees and beekeepers are spring and summer, which is when the honey flows peak and the colony builds its numbers. You'll use extractors to harvest the honey from the honeycomb.
For anyone beginning beekeeping, there’s a lot to learn. From identifying the different bee species and what bees make honey to how to care for a hive and harvest honey, it’s an absorbing pastime, whether you follow it as a hobby or occupation. Local suppliers and beekeeping clubs are an excellent source of information about beekeeping, where to buy proper equipment, and local conditions that can affect your colony.