First-ever honey harvest
File this in the "If I can do it, anybody can do it" column…
This weekend, I harvested honey for the first time from my first (and only) hive.
It was amazing. And surprisingly quick and easy.
The hive (actually, only 4 frames of it) yielded over a gallon of rich, clear, delicious dark amber honey. Here are a few shots of some of the bounty:
It's been about a year since the idea to start a hive popped into my head. So, if you're thinking you might like to keep bees yourself, you could be enjoying your own locally-made honey by this time next year.
For those curious about the process, here are some helpful things to know:
- The basic mechanics of beekeeping are really easy. Bees have been making honey for millions of years. Your role is basically to help keep things on track for them. Give them nice protected shelter, provide good foundations for building their honeycomb, keep predators away, manage pests, etc. All the real work is done by the bees themselves.
- The time investment is front-loaded. To be a successful beekeeper, you need to do your homework. Keeping bees is like getting your drivers license. The actual practice of driving a car is pretty simple and straightforward 95% of the time. But there are a lot of corner cases that *could* occur, so you need to learn the rules of the road, figure out the basics of how a car works, and study your own car's drivers manual before you get your license. Beekeeping is a lot like that. You'll also need to procure and set up your hive, so plan on a few weeks/months to source everything and get it installed and in place. But after that, once you have your bees in the hive and they're successfully self-sustaining, you'll only need to check the hive for a few minutes every few weeks (provided everything is going OK).
- Getting stung is pretty rare. As long as they don't perceive you as wantonly destroying their home, the bees will leave you alone for the most part. There are best practices you'll want to follow, for sure, to minimize bee aggression (use a smoker, wear polyester vs cotton, use a veil and gloves), but in general, the bees have better things to focus on then stinging you. With a little care, you can bring the incident rate of stings close to zero. I didn't get stung once while keeping my hive this year (and I only use a veil and gloves, not a full-body suit – which I don't think is needed if you only have a few hives).
- Springtime is the time to start a hive. In most places, bees hunker down in the wintertime, conserving their energy. Hives do best when started after the last frosts, the first blossoms have opened, and there's a long stretch of warm weather ahead. So do your homework and procure your gear over the fall & winter. And figure out where you're going to get your bees from. Most counties have at least one bee guild. That's a great source for both education and buying a "bee package" (a box of 10,000 bees + a queen). Make it your goal to have everything in place and ready to go by the time your bees arrive.
- Keeping bees is a win-win for everybody in your neighborhood. Most people are now aware of colony collapse disorder (CCD), so when you mention you're putting in a hive, most folks give you praise for doing your part to "help the bees". Once the hive is in place, those with gardens will likely notice their plants thriving more than normal, and the bees get the credit. Chances are, you'll have some spectators who will want to come watch you do your work on the hive (parents like to bring their kids). And once the honey is in, a stream of visitors will likely parade to your door for a taste.
- Beekeeping is kind of addictive. There's a headiness to creating this world that thrives and produces based on your care and attention. You feel a bit like a benevolent diety running your own micro-universe. Don't let it get to your head too much – but it probably will.
- Beekeeping can be done ANYWHERE. Many of you know I lived in the heart of Silicon Valley until quite recently. That's where this hive is: smack in the middle of high-Tech suburbia. The owner of the store I purchased my hive from in lives in San Francisco and has a network of rooftop hives in the city. All you really need is a decent water source within a few miles. So unless you live in the arctic or the Mojave, there's really nothing preventing you from keeping bees.
- Local honey is a great social currency. Few things make people's faces light up the way they do when you give them a small jar of honey from your own bees. A little goes a long way if you're looking to swap honey for borrowing a neighbor's tool, or thanking a family for having you over for dinner.
I hope my experience gives inspiration and confidence to those currently deciding whether or not to keep bees. I guarantee you that if I can do it, you can, too.
After all, in the time since my bees arrived, I was heavily distracted with launching the new Peak Prosperity site, traveling with Chris, moving my family over 100 miles away — and yet, my "girls" (the bees) quietly soldiered on; thriving and producing the wonderful honey above for me.