In my last post, I said I would try to answer the questions “Why bees?” and “Why top-bar hives?” Some people may have noticed that in explaining “Why bees?” I left out two very obvious answers, pollination and honey. Don’t get me wrong, both honey and pollination are both really good reasons to keep bees, and they did play a part in me wanting to start beekeeping.
I promise I will get to “Why top-bar hives?” eventually. 🙂
In the case of pollination, though it nice, I won’t have a garden anywhere near bees. I don’t know if there are crops or gardens near the bees that will benefit from the bees service, but I won’t (directly anyway). Although its not a huge factor for me in beekeeping, pollinations by honey bees is quite a big deal. The US Dept. of Agricultural has estimated that up to 1/3 of our diet depends on insect pollination and honey bees do about 80% of that pollination. Honey bees are important for almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupes, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, sunflowers, watermelon and many other crops. In 2000, the value of honey bee pollination to US crops was estimated at $14.6 billion.
Honey bees are not native to the US and there are many native pollinators. One of the ones I see most often around my house in NC is the Eastern Carpenter Bee. Where I grew up in Colorado, I commonly saw Bumblebees while hiking and backpacking, but I have no idea which of the many types they were. Many of the native pollinator can do a good job pollinating crops, but we’ve made it hard for them. In addition to pesticides and lose of habitat, the way we farm makes it hard for them to pollinate our crops well. Our farms are often large (hundreds or thousands of acres) and monoculture. A single crop may only bloom and provide nectar for one short period during the year. If there are hundreds or thousands of acres of that crop alone, there is little or no nectar during the remainder of the year. Honey bees couldn’t live in this type of situation either, but due to the way we keep bees we are able to bring the hives in for the pollination and then move them to other crops for nectar later.
If you are interested in native pollinators you should consider putting out houses for them. Its like putting up bird or bat houses and can enhance the wildlife around your home. This site for example has information about bumblebee houses in addition to lots of other interesting info.
When it comes to honey, of course I want honey. There are lots of other fascinating insects, but you don’t see me wanting to raise them right? Besides, honey tastes great. I just don’t need tons of honey. Of course it depends on the year, location, and nectar sources, but I have seen discussions of 50-100 pounds of honey per hive. Honestly, I have no idea what I would do with that much honey. My family can use maybe 5 lbs. of honey a year. I can give some to family and friends. Aside from that, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I don’t drink, so mead is out. I don’t really want to start selling honey on my weekends either. I guess the whole point here is that if honey was the main point it would be much easier and cheaper to buy it. Even at high end prices, I could get a lot of honey for the amount I am spending on the bees. Honey is wonderful, but its not the only reason to keep bees.