Bees in the Garden
We have 2 beehives located in the south end of our garden. Honeybees are generally non-aggressive but will sting while protecting their hive. The hives are located at the far end, opposite of the entrance to our garden (south end).
What is beekeeping:
Beekeeping is a very old practice that people have been involved in for nearly 5,000 years. The practice of beekeeping involves tending to the colonies of European Honeybees in a hive in order to harvest honey.
Honeybees are not native to North America. They originated in Asia, and over time spread out across the Eurasian continent and into Africa. Colonists began moving European Honeybees (Apis mellifera) around to Australia, South America, and North America about 200-400 years ago.
When honeybees were first introduced to North America, local people referred to the insects as ‘White Man’s Fly’ because they were only found in association with the new homesteaders.
Keeping bees is treated similarly to the practice of keeping livestock. A beekeeper is responsible for the proper care and handling of their bees. A beekeeper provides shelter (the hive), protection from predators (i.e: raccoons, bears, mice, etc.), food & water (locating the hives near food sources, providing sugar syrup), as well as veterinary care.
Beekeeping at The Garden Patch:
The Garden Patch has been keeping honeybees for a few years with the assistance of an entomologist (insect specialist) and some dedicated beekeeper volunteers.
We have 4 active colonies in our garden, this means we have anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand honeybees in our garden at any time.
These hives are kept together, but are 4 distinct colonies.
The hives get taller during the summer as the beekeeper adds boxes to make space for more and more honey.
The honeybees (and the wild bees) in our garden are very calm and typically do not bother the people in the garden.
The Garden Patch also provides habitats for a variety of native, wild bees as well. These wild bees do not make honey, but they are an important part of our garden ecosystem.
What do the bees do for the garden:
Bees (honeybees & wild bees) provide something called ‘pollination services,’ this means that the bees are helping to move pollen between different flowers, allowing the plants to ‘set fruit’ and grow us some tasty food.
Without the pollination services of our bee population, The Garden Patch would not be able to grow as many squash, tomatoes, apples, raspberries, strawberries, zucchini, peppers, peas or beans as we do.
The honeybees and wild bees also can be a food source for other predatory insects and animals. While we are sad to loose bees, knowing that it is a part of a healthy ecosystem is good. The predators that occasionally eat the bees also help to eat the pest insects in our garden.
Honey is harvested in late summer, we harvest the Garden Patch honey in August.
To harvest honey, a beekeeper will take the hive apart and remove the frames that are filled with honey. These frames are located in the upper portion of the hive. (The lower part of the hive is where you will find the baby bees/larvae)
The frames have a layer of beeswax that must be removed first. This can be done with a special comb-like tool or with a knife that has been warmed up so that it melts the wax when you cut.
The frames are put into a centrifuge and spun quickly. When the frames are spun, the honey is pulled out of the hive by force and it collects in the bottom of the centrifuge. A spout at the bottom of the centrifuge allows the beekeeper to pour the collected honey into containers.
It is important that when a beekeeper collects their honey, that they leave a portion of the honey in the hive for the bees to eat. Because you are taking food from the bees, the beekeeper will give the bees lots of sugar water so that they can make more food.
After harvesting the honey, the beekeeper will not add the upper boxes back onto the stack, but will shorten the stack in order to over-winter the colony.
How we overwinter our hives:
Honeybees, like people, do not hibernate in the winter, but they don’t spend much time outdoors in the cold either.
Beekeepers will wrap their hives up in a big, fluffy, hive-wrap that is like a water-proof blanket. There are two ways for the bees to move in and out of the hive while it is wrapped, but they are very small. This is so the hive can stay warm and keeps the predators and pests out.
The bees will spend the winter in their hive, eating the honey and pollen they collected all summer.
Honeybees are very clean insects and will not defecate in their hive, they will take short flights on nice winter days for this.
What we do with the honey we get:
The amount of honey that one hive can produce is very different from hive-to-hive and from year-to-year.
When the Garden Patch hives have a good year, we harvest approximately 10 gallons of honey. We split this with our beekeepers for their hard work. The remaining 5 gallons of honey is packed into jars and they go out to our community through the emergency food hampers.
We are able to share 30-100 jars of honey each year.
Want to learn more about beekeeping or the Garden Patch bees? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org