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Posts Tagged: beekeeping

So, you want to be a commercial beekeeper...

Eric Mussen
So you want to be a full-time commercial beekeeper and keep 1,000 colonies or more.

Perhaps you want to sell honey and beeswax, rent your bees for commercial crop pollination, rear queen bees, or sell bulk bees.

The newly published second edition of the Small Farm Handbook, which draws on the knowledge of 32 experts from the University of California, contains a wealth of information. The chapter, "Raising Animals," covers beekeeping as a business.

“Costs to start a beekeeping business are not particularly high compared to many small businesses, and a well-planned and managed operation can be profitable,” writes Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology.

“Beekeepers own, rent or find rent-free apiary locations where their bees can forage for food without becoming a nuisance to humans or livestock. Beekeepers must manage their colonies to the benefit of the bees and in compliance with existing state, county and municipal ordinances.”

For those who want to rent bees for pollination, “rental rates are as much as 10 times higher for almond orchards, which need to be pollinated a time of year when bee supplies barely meet demand.”

Indeed, California has some 750,000 acres of almonds, and each acre needs two colonies for pollination. Since the Golden State doesn't have that many bees, they are trucked in from all over the country.

"Fifty percent of the bees in the United States have to be in California to pollinate the almonds," molecular biologist and biochemist Joseph DeRisi of UC San Francisco said Jan. 9 at his lecture in the Genome and Biomedical Sciences Facility at UC Davis.

DeRisi, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor and vice chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF, pointed out that “California supplies 80 percent of the world's almond supply.”

No bees, no almonds.

“Beekeeping can sound deceptively simple,” Mussen writes in the chapter, “but in fact beekeeping is a form of animal husbandry that involves providing feed when nectar and pollens are lacking, preventing infections from various microbes, dealing with two well-established parasitic mites, and reducing the influence of Africanized bees. Before you try to keep bees commercially on your own, you should gain experience working with a commercial beekeeper for one or more seasons.”

The latest parasite discovered in bees is the parasitic phorid fly (Apocephalus borealis). In work published Jan. 3 in the Public Library of Science (PLoS One) journal, San Francisco State University researchers wrote that the parasitic fly lays its eggs in the honey bees; it was previously known to parasitize bumble bees, but not honey bees.

The fly-infested bees display altered bee behavior. Nicknamed “zombie bees,” the bees fly at night toward lights, such as porch, building or street lights. They do not return to the hive; they die.

Neither Mussen nor DeRisi believes that the parasitic fly is a dominant factor in colony collapse disorder, a mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive.

For tips on beekeeping, be sure to check out Mussen's bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and his other resource, Bee Briefs, both posted on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.

And  if you want to become an full-time commercial beekeeper, read the “Estimated Investment Needed for a 1,000-Colony Bee Operation” in the Small Farm Handbook.

Honey bee heading for almond blossoms, spring of 2011, at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee heading for almond blossoms, spring of 2011, at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee heading for almond blossoms, spring of 2011, at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis.(Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The queen and her court at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The queen and her court at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The queen and her court at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 8:26 AM

Bee-ing green

Going green in your backyard doesn’t mean just planting a bee-friendly garden and providing water for the bees.

Have you ever thought about becoming a backyard beekeeper? You can help boost the declining bee population while engaging in a fascinating and rewarding hobby. Your flowers, fruits and vegetables will benefit (as will your neighbors' gardens). Another reward that’s sweet: honey.

There’s another benefit, too. If you’re into photography, especially macro photography, this is a perfect opportunity to “bee” there.

The number of backyard beekeepers in the United States has increased by about 15 percent over the last three years, according to Kim Flottum (top), editor of Bee Culture magazine and author of The BackYard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden. He estimates the number at 100,000-plus and growing.

“Backyard beekeepers easily represent more than 80 percent of total beekeepers, but have only about 25 percent of the total hives,” he told us. “They contribute lots to local pollination of small gardens and orchards and plants for wildlife. And, they are responsible for most of the local honey one sees for sale, since most sell close to home in farmers’ markets and the like.”

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (left), member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, also advocates that folks do their part in the honey bees crisis. Don’t just plant bee friendly plants, but plants that bees can forage on in the late summer and fall when food is scarce, he says.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation provides regional lists of bee friendly plants. The UC Berkeley Urban Gardens website maintains a California list.

What are some of the first steps in becoming a beekeeper?

  1. Join a local beekeeping association where veterans can assist you. Bee Culture maintains contact information for beekeeping associations. The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis maintains a list of beekeeping clubs in California. Many 4-H clubs also offer beekeeping projects where youths can learn the not-so-secret life of bees.
  2. Check your city and county ordinances and your county agriculture commissioner for bee-colony regulations.
  3. Contact your neighbors to see if they are allergic to bee stings or if they have any objections to your keeping bees.
  4. Start a library of beekeeping books. Some of the most recent books by bee experts include The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum; Honey Bee Hobbyist: the Care and Keeping of Bees by UC Davis retired emeritus professor Norman Gary (his experience spans six decades); and Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees: Honey Production, Pollination and Health by University of Florida Extension beekeeping specialist Malcolm T. Sanford, with expertise from the late Richard E. Bonney's book, Beekeeping and Hive Management.
  5. Subscribe to bee publications such as The American Bee Journal, Bee Culture and Speedy Bee.
  6. Glean information from the Internet, including YouTube, but be aware that some info is misleading and inaccurate.

Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of UC Davis and Washington State University cautions that you must take care of your bees to ward off diseases and pests. And, if you’re catching swarms, especially in southern California, be aware that some could be Africanized bees.

“The swarms are initially docile, but can become very defensive when they grow and have brood and honey—and turn to a public health issue,” she says.

Cobey advocates that would-be beekeepers find a good mentor and/or bee club that offers beginners’ classes and arranges purchase of good queens.

“Temperament alone will make a huge difference,” she says.

Good advice!

On the light side, once you’re a bonafide beekeeper, you can wear T-shirts like “Show Me the Honey,” “I Have Hives” and “I Smoke Burlap.”

The best part of rearing your very own bees, though, is making an individual statement in a world filled with millions of unanswered questions.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is one of them.

(Editor's note: Kathy Keatley Garvey, a communication specialist in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, comes from a long line of beekeepers tracing back to "at least the 1800s.")

Backyard Bee
Backyard Bee

POLLEN-PACKING honey bee heading toward rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Smoking the Hive
Smoking the Hive

BEEKEEPER smoking a hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 9:22 AM
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