Beekeeping is a popular hobby and, if you enjoy using honey on your toast and in your tea, you might want to have a few hives in the backyard.
In 2012 U.S. apiculture, or beekeeping, produced 147 million pounds of honey but that was less than in previous years. More beekeepers are needed. Honey has been a dietary staple for a long time. In Spain, cave drawings dating to 6,000 B.C. show people climbing cliffs to reach honey hives.
Local beekeepers Ruth and Lonnie O’Dell started their beekeeping hobby in 1971 and this year their 10 hives produced around 120 pounds of honey per hive.
“I was teaching carpentry at Indian Capital Technology Center when I brought a swarm of bees home in a box,” said Lonnie. “Anyone with a garden should have a hive to pollinate their vegetables and fruit.”
The sweet rewards of beekeeping require an investment of time and money, but there are several reasons the O’Dells have enjoyed it for so many years.
“Everyone who gets into it is taken by watching the bees,” Ruth said. “They are mesmerizing.”
The O’Dells said that the basic investment in a hive and a swarm of bees costs around $250 and that a beekeeper could recoup almost all of that money the first year. An extractor costs another $300 for a hand-operated one and up to $900 for an electric model.
They recommend two suppliers: Dadant (www.dadant.com) and Walter T. Kelley (www.kelley bees.com). Both companies have information on how to get started. Kelley’s site defines a “newbee” as someone who has had bees for up to 18 months and has survived a second winter. A hobbyist is one who has survived two winters and has up to 50 hives.
Lonnie and Ruth would like to share their experience and enthusiasm, so they are starting a Muskogee club for anyone who has bees or is interested in becoming a beekeeper.
The health and allergy-prevention benefits of eating local honey are well-established. But Lonnie said he thinks that being stung by bees is the reason he has never had any arthritis. Pure local honey is the most effective.
“The honey we sell is raw and strained two or three times,” said Ruth. “Inexpensive honey sold in discount stores is from India and China. Some is diluted with corn syrup. We sell out every year.”
During the summer, beekeepers feed their bees sugar water as well as growing sweet clover to ensure adequate supplies of nectar. In winter, bees stay around the hives eating leftover honey.
White and yellow sweet clover, Melilotus alba and Melilotus officinalis, are often grown to improve the soil, but they are also a great benefit to honey bees.
“Honey bees go to whatever is sweetest,” said Lonnie. “If there is sweet clover nearby, they will ignore the fruit and vegetable blossoms because the clover is sweeter. You could plant clover between now and February to get the plants established, but that clover will not flower until 2015.”
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