The Buzz on Beekeeping
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For this post, I interviewed Megan Wannarka, a volunteer beekeeper with Ames Farm in Minnesota.
How did you get into beekeeping?
I had a fascination when I was younger and found the nearest beekeeper and asked if I could help. My mom drove me out and I spent an afternoon with him. I was in love. I only helped him one day and was interested in getting into from then but it’s not necessarily a good hobby for a 13 year old.
Most recently after interviewing for the Peace Corps, they asked me if I was interested in working with bees, which lead me to get more experience in the area. I contacted the beekeeper who I work with now. I volunteered with him last summer after being laid off from my job. (The company name is Ames Farms, he has 300 hives and will expand to 500 and is organic as possible and sells his honey throughout the united states)
What is a typical day like?
Depending upon the time of year it differs slightly. We begin in April around 6-7am (depending upon the warmth of the day) checking hives, making sure they have enough honey, checking the queen, giving them pollen.
Later in May-June, checking for eggs, brood pattern, for queens and disease. At this point of the year you can re-queen a hive and still have a good amount of honey in the fall. Honey will start to “run” or “flow” around late May. If you talk to a beekeeper at this point of the year, they are very happy and busy.
Late in July-Aug you are pulling the capped honey off the hives (most labor intensive part of the year) and taking it to the honey house to be uncapped and spun out to be strained and bottled. Most days we work until we can’t (12-14 hour days were typical last year) because or daylight or where we can get to with so many bee yards, but we have a large operation compared to most hobby beekeepers, checking a yard on a weekly basis rather than daily.
How long does it take to create honey (pollen to honey)?
Bees collect nectar from flowering trees, shrubs and plants over the course of spring and summer. Nectar is the raw product of honey, while pollen is stirred up while gathering the nectar from plants and helping in pollination. Bees will also collect pollen on their hind legs and is a foodstuff that they eat along with honey. The bees will hold the nectar in their stomach, much like a cow and their cud, and then will deposit in into a cell in the comb once they get back to the hive. A single bee will make only an 1/8 of a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime.
Once the cell is full and the moisture content has fallen below 18% (depending upon weather) the bees will cap the cell. This is the sign the honey is ready. It can take a few months to have a box of frames be completely capped once the honey starts. Last year the honey flow started in June and we started to take honey off in August. But with the correct conditions you might this process can really start to fly in the middle of the summer and beekeepers need to keep on top of it.
Can you talk about the differences in honey (grades, different pollen sources, etc)?
Grades of honey are based on percent of soluble solids, absence of defects, flavor and aroma and clarity. (further detail can be found here) Most honey you find in the grocery store and farmer’s market is grade A.
Pollen sources will determine color, flavor and aroma of the honey. Most commercial honey is blended from many sources so it’s harder to tell the difference between a dandelion and clover honey. The beekeeper I work with makes a point of NOT blending his honey except by single super (box of honey with 9 frames it) which captures a very small area of pollen and from a specific area, which is pretty cool. His honey ranges from dandelion (strange enough tastes like lemon), to melon (he’s got hives on an organic melon farm) to basswood and of course clover.
What should people who are interested do to get involved with beekeeping?
Buy local honey from either the beekeeper at the farmers market, direct, find a local hobby beekeeper association chapter and join (they have a ton of information if you’d like to get into it) It is a dying art and shouldn’t be rushed into if your thinking of trying it. My beekeeper has many stories of people trying it, not finding the time for it and then end up abandoning the whole idea
Sources and further reading:
United States Standards for Grades of Extracted Honey
The Backyard Beekeeper’s Honey Handbook by Kim Flottum
Plan Bee: Everything you ever wanted to know about the hardest working creature on the planet by Susan Brackney
And anything by Eva Crane (the foremost researcher on the subject)
Find a local honey producer by searching Local Harvest
Megan Wannarka works with Ames Farm and is originally from small town in southern Minnesota. When she’s not playing with bees she’s found with her nose in a book, causing trouble, breaking hearts and freelancing.
I focus on fresh ingredients and easy methods, with spins that keep meals interesting. Dinnertime shouldn’t be stressful or complicated, and I’m here to help you enjoy the time spent in the kitchen. Read more…
Excellent article! Local honey ROCKS!!!!!! Bees are such beautiful creatures, and so vital to our planet.
who is this Megan girl? nose in a book, causing trouble, breaking hearts…have I met you before? great article 🙂
@Hauger, You’d know it if you had that’s for sure!!
Excellent post, information, and suggestions – thanks.