The basics of beekeeping, conservation to help pollinators |

Humans originally obtained their honey through wild harvesting. A cave painting located in Valencia, Spain, shows that honey harvesting dates back 7,000 years. But the collection of honey and wax is thought to date back around 10,000 years.

Modern beekeeping is a long-standing tradition dating back to the 18th century when Europeans changed beekeeping by using movable comb hives. Prior to this, the bee colony was destroyed to harvest honey.

Beekeeping today contributes about $20 billion to US agricultural production, according to the American Beekeeping Federation. Some crops, like blueberries and cherries, are 90% dependent on bees. Bees are so important that one in three bites of food is linked to bee pollination.

Langstroth hives are the most widely used hives in the United States and Europe. There are two types of Langstroth hives, a 10 frame and an 8 frame. The hive itself is made of boxes stacked on top of each other and can be broken down into seven basic parts (from bottom to top):

Lower board — is the floor of the hive and provides a landing area.

Brood chamber/deep supers — is where the queen lays eggs here. Most hives will have 1 or 2 brood chambers. Honey and pollen will also be stored here. These boxes are the largest at 9 5/8 inches tall.

Queen excluder — is placed between the brood chamber and the honey supers to prevent the queen from laying eggs in the honey supers. Worker bees are small enough to squeeze through, but this can slow honey production. So most beekeepers will avoid using unless necessary.

Super Honey — This is where the honey is made and stored. At any time, there will be 1 or more Super Honey on the Hive. Honey supers are available in 4 different sizes of comb super (4 3/4 inches), super shallow (5 3/4 inches), super medium (6 5/8 inches) and large super (7 5/8 inches ).

Frames – are used as structural support to help bees maintain a well-structured honeycomb. They are placed both in the brood chamber and in the honey supers. The frames are made of wood and plastic, but bees still seem to prefer wood. Foundation can be used inside frames to help bees start their honeycomb but is not necessary. However, it does help increase honey production and keep the hive more organized. Foundation also comes in different forms, including plastic, sheer wax, wired sheer wax, and synthetic foundation.

Interior Cover – creates a dead air space to insulate the hive against heat and cold. Some covers will also have a vent for ventilation and honey production.

Outdoor/Telescopic Cover – is usually a wooden top covered with strong aluminum to protect the hive from the elements.

Many beekeepers will place the hive as a whole on some sort of stand/base to support it and keep it off the moist ground. These bases are usually made of wood or concrete.

European bees (Apis mellifera) are amazing creators, traveling up to five kilometers in all directions to feed and using a restless dance to communicate. There are three members in a hive: the queen, the worker and the drone.

There is only one queen per hive. She is the biggest bee in the hive and the hive is her reflection. But she will be replaced if the workers find her incompetent. She will live for 2 to 7 years and can lay 1,500 to 3,000 eggs per day.

The worker bee is the smallest member and on average there are around 50,000 per hive during the summer. They do everything from hive care, hive defender, foraging and queen related activities. During their life, which can last from 22 to 42 days, they will produce about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey.

One of the drones’ missions is to mate with a queen.

Honey, also known as liquid gold, has great value as food. It can be used in cooking, baking or added to tea; besides that, it can also be eaten raw. Honey comes in many forms and flavors. Flavor may be affected by harvest time and floral source(s). For example, honey made primarily from bilberry can sometimes have a bilberry aftertaste and linden/linden honey can have a hint of mint.

Honey also comes in many forms, here are a few:

Crystallized or granulated honey — is just honey that crystallized spontaneously. It didn’t turn out badly; it is enough to heat it to return to the liquid state. The best way to do this is to use a lukewarm (don’t boil) water bath. Also, do not put it in the microwave, it will destroy the beneficial enzymes and properties of honey. Granulated honey can also be consumed, it just has a different texture.

Raw honey – received little or no treatment. If heat is used, it will not exceed 105-115 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes it will be passed through a minimal sieve during bottling. But this honey will always contain pollen, wax, enzymes and occasionally a bee part. Most small local beekeepers/beekeepers will sell their honey this way in liquid or crystallized form.

Creamed or whipped honey — is crystallized honey where a starting seed is used. This seed comes from a batch of previously crystallized honey and is much smaller than most naturally crystallized honeys. This makes it a smoother cream to spread. It is lighter in color than liquid honey.

Comb honey — is the honey left in the wax comb. It is harvested by cutting the comb out of frames or using special frames.

Infused honey — is made with herbs and spices, such as mint, rose petal and lavender. The herbs are placed in hot honey and left in the jar for a few weeks. The herbs are strained or can be left in.

Becoming a beekeeper might not be a path you want to take, but you still have a love for bees and pollinators. There are a few alternatives for habitat conservation and development.

First, plant free-flowing plants that are beneficial to pollinators. Native wildflowers are a great option.

Second, create a diverse landscape with as much diversity as possible in flowing plants. Diversity is very important to bees and will help create varied habitats for all pollinators. It provides early, mid and late season blooms, giving pollinators a source of nectar all summer long.

Third, there is no mowing in the spring and especially in May. In the spring, pollinators lack sources of nectar. By not mowing lawns, flowers like clover and dandelions can bloom. It can help provide that first source of nectar.

Finally, create a water source for pollinators. A birdbath with rocks or twigs will work. Rocks and twigs give pollinators a place to land so they don’t drown.

Tiffany Jones is the District Manager for the Wexford Conservation District. For more information on beekeeping and for local conservation assistance, contact Tiffany by phone at (231) 775-7681, ext. 3, by email to