Bees & Honey
What's so great about bees?
If we didn't have bees and other pollinators, we wouldn't have apples or tomatoes...is that a good enough reason??
Bees go from flower to flower looking for nectar and pollen, and along the way they help pollinate 80% of our fruits and vegetables. It also takes an insane amount of work to make the honey we love, and if you think about it, we're basically stealing their food, so bees deserve our utmost respect and appreciation!
If you're thinking about getting some hives for the backyard, understand the commitment you'll be making and do some research to find out what it takes to become a sustainable beekeeper. In the meantime, here are some cool facts we learned from Sarah & Cassie of Hives For Humanity:
A bee hive operates as a superorganism where every bee has its role and works to keep the colony alive. It's made up of one queen that lays all the eggs, female worker bees that do most of the work, and some male drones that try to mate with queens (and die shortly after!). Most honey bees you see are female worker bees. To determine whether a bee becomes a queen, worker bee or drone, it's fed certain foods - queens are fed royal jelly, while the rest are fed a mix of jelly, pollen & honey.
Bees are extremely tidy and clean, as well as space and energy efficient; they will immediately seal any loose cracks to keep bad things out and make new honeycomb when there is any vacant space. In the summer, swarms can happen when the hive grows too big or there are multiple queens in one hive. The queen will fly away with part
of the hive following her, perch on a tree branch or some other surface and send
out worker bees to search for a new home. If you ever see a swarm in your garden
or neighbourhood, let the professionals handle it! Contact Hives for Humanity or
Brian Campbell of Blessed Bee Farm.
Did You Know:
Honey bee colonies can contain up to 50,000-100,000 bees
In peak season, the queen can lay 3000 eggs in one day!
Both pollen and nectar is collected from flowers - you can see a bee's pollen sacs on its legs
Drones have big eyes so they can spot virgin queens in the air. They also don't have stingers.
In the winter or when a hive is having problems, the drones are the first to go (ie. get kicked out)
Bees die when they sting; their insides gets ripped out when you pull the stinger out, so they really have no reason to be aggressive unless they feel threatened and trapped, or they're queenless
If you do get stung, scrape the stinger out sideways with your nail so less poison enters your body - don't squeeze it out
If a mouse were to enter the hive and die, the bees would seal it in wax to protect the hive, essentially mummifying it!
Bees Wax & Honey
Just how much work does it take to produce honey?
Honey bees must visit approximately two million flowers to make one pound of honey. In her lifetime, a worker bee will only make 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey. Talk about a precious commodity!
When buying honey, look for the raw stuff. 'Organic' is a vague term because you can't control where and how far bees might go. Interestingly, Sarah & Cassie told us that their honey's flavour profile is more complex in the city because there's more variety concentrated in these areas. They also said that their honey develops more of a smoky flavour closer to the downtown core! Above all, buying the right honey involves knowing your beekeeper. Hives For Humanity sells their amazing honey at East Van Roasters.
As for bees wax, it's estimated that it takes 6 lbs of honey to make 1 lb of wax! When bees are between 12-20 days old, they develop a wax-producing gland that converts honey into a waxy substance that
other bees chew to build their honey
comb foundation. Try chewing
honey comb sometime - we say it's
like nature's gum! Wax can also be
used to make candles and skin
products like salves and lip balms.
Bees Wax Candle
Beeswax sheet - $3 each at Homesteader's Emporium, less if you buy in bulk
Wick - buy them per metre and cut into 3's
1. Decide what shape you'd like your candle to be. You can keep the sheet in a rectangle for a long elegant look, or cut it in half on an angle for a tapered effect. We went with the 2nd option in order to get two candles out of one sheet.
2. Place the wick on the edge of the short side. Leave some of the wick sticking out.
3. Heat up the wax with the blowdryer or warm your fingers and start wrapping the wax tightly and evenly around the wick. Roll the candle away from you.
4. Once you get halfway, you can use your palms to roll the rest of the candle and finish the job.
5. Make the bottom of the candle
nice and level, and roll the candle
between your hands to get out any
Your candle should look like this!
It'll burn for 4-6 hours and make
an awesome homemade gift.
What can we do for bees?
If you've heard of Colony Collapse Disorder, you'll know that the health and future of bees is in under threat around the world, which can seriously impact our food system. Besides learning more about this problem, you can do your part to encourage the presence of bees where you live. Here are some suggestions:
Plant flowers everywhere and let some vegetables in your garden flower - bees are super attracted to purple
Create a bee friendly garden with these tips, which includes making a bee bath
Leave them alone - keep a section of your garden unturned to let bees nest in the ground; locate & get out of their flight path
Learn more about bees with your local sustainable beekeeper! You can find Hives For Humanity at Milross Gardens on Mondays @ 5pm and Hastings Urban Farm on Thursdays @ 2pm
Take a beekeeping course with the EYA Community Hive Program or Blessed Bee Farm