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Bee-keeping for beginners. Why keep bees?
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We keep bees in Limousin, France - but why should you take up bee-keeping?
The last days of September are gloriously warm and sunny this year here in Limousin, France; ideal weather to carry out end of year tasks in the bee hives. I trot after my husband, camera in hand, to take photographs of his bee-keeping activities.
As always I am in a hurry I only had time to pull on the hip-length bee suit and quickly tuck my trousers into my socks while he was well equipped to fend off the bees. The result this time is that I am not going to venture too close to the hives. These bees took up residence in the hive after we lost a colony last year, and they are not of the sweetest temperament.
Although bee keeping is engaging and informative and the honey is delicious there are yet more pressing reasons why you should keep bees.
Beekeeping for Beginners - Why keep bees?
The reasons to keep bees are many and varied.
- Save the planet! there is a 'bee problem' at the moment and colonies of bees around the world have been suffering. I have heard it said that if the bee population suddenly died out, humans would have only 4 years to live. Why? Bees pollinate almost 75% of the world's food crops, so without bees we wouldn't have food. The whole of life on earth relies on bees.
- Save money. Produce enough honey for the family and more to sell. Honey is bio static, it doesn't breed germs, so is an easy food product to market. We once went to a farmers market to sell our honey and sold the whole year's crop in three hours! We made our own wholemeal bread, gave away bread and honey samples and free bread recipes. Not only did we sell out of honey, but we sold out of bread as well. This was a great all-round success.
- Enjoy delving into the fascinating world of the honey bee. You will slowly build up skills and expertise in the art of keeping bees. You will learn how the bee works, how colonies grow and work together, how bees produce honey and how to gather in the crop.Have a look at the excellent video below for just a taste of the wonders of the hive.
- Harvest wax. You can make your own beauty products, candles and other wax objects cheaply and easily. They make great Christmas and Birthday Presents.
- Collect propolis, said to have many medicinal uses.
- Collect Royal Jelly, said to have many medicinal properties including the prolongation of youth.
Honeybees and pollination
Honeybees are kept for honey but they are also playing an increasingly important role in pollination. As crops are grown as monocultures, so bees are being shipped many miles to pollinate these crops.
So How much does a bee earn? Well, a penny a month! Listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme about beekeeping in America and follow the beekeepers as they send their bees to fertilize the Almond trees. These trees bloom suddenly and massively in California and they need literally billions of bees to produce a viable crop. This is "the largest single pollination event on Earth". (Radio 4)
On the Trail of the American Honeybee - BBC Radio 4
- BBC Radio 4 - On the Trail of the American Honeybee
How honeybees and their keepers travel vast distances pollinating America's crops.
Humans and bees go back a long way
Bees have featured large in our history and our culture. In the past bees gave us sweetness in the form of honey to add to our food, and light in the form of wax for our candles. Food and light, two of the basic needs of the human race. The importance of honey is illustrated by the Egyptians, who buried pots of honey in the pyramids with the pharaohs (and it was still edible when they discovered them centuries later!), so that the dead had nourishment on the way to the next world.
Bees feature regularly in our cultural life; literature, poetry, music .... Everyone knows The Flight Of The Bumblebee written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for his opera, The Tale of Tsar Saltan, composed in 1899–1900, and many people will remember the quirky tale by Roald Dahl about the baby fed on Royal Jelly! The poem, 'How doth the little busy bee ..' by Isaac Watts, has largely been lost, saved from obscurity only by Lewis Carroll's parody in Alice in Wonderland. Here the bee has been replaced by the much more memorable 'Little Crocodile'. While I much prefer the crocodile, Watts' poem does tell us something of the life of the bee:
"How doth the Little Bee"
How doth the little busy Bee
Improve each shining Hour,
And gather Honey all the day
From every opening Flower!
How skilfully she builds her Cell!
How neat she spreads the Wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet Food she makes.
In Works of Labour or of Skill
I would be busy too:
For Satan finds some Mischief still
For idle Hands to do.
In Books, or Work, or healthful Play
Let my first Years be past,
That I may give for every Day
Some good Account at last. 
Enjoy all the benefits of harvesting your own honey
Enjoy the health-giving qualities of locally-produced honey. It is said that eating local honey helps to prevent and reduce the symptoms of hay-fever and other allergies. Honey has been proven to have healing qualities.
Enjoy our home produced honey at Les Trois Chenes
We serve our own honey and home made jam and chutney at our Bed and Breakfast. Enjoy the best that nature has to offer.
How to get started
Join the bee-keeping community. There will be a bee-keepers group near you and they will gladly share their experience and knowledge with you. They will teach and nurture you as well as helping you to obtain all the materials and stock you need at reasonable prices. Join your local bee-group now.
Get informed. Is bee-keeping really for you? Arm yourself with a good book or two - take a look at the ones I've selected, and get boned up on bees. There is just so much to learn about setting up hives and caring for bees - it's the love of a lifetime.
Silence of the bees
Bees love Limousin
© 2009 Les Trois Chenes