Honeybees marked my first venture into livestock and have taught me a lot about how life works. I highly recommend keeping backyard bees for anyone who enjoys local honey, communing with wildlife, and watching pollinators busy at work.
How I Started
I signed up for a weekend “Beginning Beekeeping” class offered through the University of Maryland Extension, which introduced me to novice and seasoned beekeepers. One of my classmates, a fellow homesteader, became my bee buddy. Together we purchased equipment, ordered bees, and installed our first package bees.
I spent a lot of time with the bees at first without wearing any protective gear, and I didn’t get stung. They would land on me, crawl around, and fly off. However, they would attack other visitors who approached them nervously. And once they stung a friend who visited them after recently dying her hair—they went right after the streak of color.
Small Hive Beetles
Disaster struck. Small hive beetles infiltrated my two bee colonies. I took management measures with beetle traps, but they still weakened the hives. The bees couldn’t produce surplus honey with the beetles hampering their efforts.
Chickens to the Rescue
I enclosed a chicken run in the bee yard, which enabled the chickens to forage beneath the slatted table on which I set the hives. Thus began multiple beneficial reciprocal relationships with the bees. The chickens:
- control the small hive beetle population by devouring the overwintering beetle larva that burrow in the soil beneath the hives;
- clean up the dead bees in front of the hive entrance;
- discourage rodents and moths from attacking the hives;
- produce eggs fortified with extra insect protein.
Thanks to the collaboration between the bees and chickens, in spring I’m able to glean a small harvest of winter honey as I give the bees fresh comb for their growing population, and in late summer I can harvest honey as a substitute for sugar in most recipes, as well as for barter and gifts. After extracting the honey, we clean the comb and make beeswax candles.
Swarm Capture Adventures
Bees reproduce colonies by swarming, and I’ve had the opportunity to capture a few swarms. A couple times my own bees swarmed into nearby trees, and I’ve also been called to collect swarms of bees around town. Standing inside a swarm of bees is exhilarating—you feel like you’re alive and part of something wonderful.