Beekeeping: How to Sweeten Up Your Backyard
Author of Bee People and the Bugs They Love
Day after day over the spring and summer of 2020, we found ourselves tethered to our homes, which for most people, meant a lot of time being confined to their property. Whether because they are looking for an escape from a couch-bound existence, or just to feel more centered, people are spending more time outside in local parks or their own backyards. As a result, it has sparked an interest in finding new ways to connect with nature and help heal Mother Earth. Thankfully, there is one hobby that will get you outside, is a great way to give back to our planet, and where distancing oneself from others has always been the socially preferred practice: Beekeeping.
Backyard beekeeping has seen a huge resurgence as more people have become aware of the hardships facing our favorite honey-loving bug. What better way to adjust to social isolation than to care for the world’s most social insect? The great thing about keeping bees is that you can do it just about anywhere. There are beekeepers throughout New York City’s five boroughs and in Yerington, Nevada. Big or small, from North Dakota to Southern Florida, location is never a concern. A hive doesn’t take up much space, as it’s about the size of a filing cabinet and requires only a few feet in every direction for you to stand while opening it up to inspect the bees, or as beekeepers like to say, working the bees.
Beekeeping brings you face-to-face with a species that has been declared the most important on Earth. Honeybees are responsible for one in every three bites of the food we eat, pollinating $20 billion worth of crops in the United States. Everything from apples, oranges, and blueberries—to avocados, cucumbers, and pumpkins—to coffee and the cotton for our clothes—are all thanks to the honeybee. By becoming a beekeeper you’re helping ensure that there are plenty of bees to pollinate the plants where you live, and since bees fly three miles from their hives, each hive is covering a lot of ground!
Caring for bees is also quite peaceful, or as I like to say, Forced Zen, as the bees always keep you present and in the moment. Standing over an open hive will engage all your senses as you immerse yourself into their world, looking, listening, smelling, and feeling what the bees are doing. And if you’re lucky, you’ll even get the taste the pure, raw honey they’ve created from the nectar of all the flowers they’ve visited. You’ll be amazed to think that it takes twelve bees lifetime work to make one teaspoon of honey, and that each one pound of honey is the nectar from two million flowers, which required the bees to fly 56,000 collective flight miles or twice around the Earth to collect. It’s no wonder why humans have been keeping bees for thousands of years and why they’re one of the most studied creatures on the planet.
It’s always best to start with two hives, as it makes your job as a beekeeper easier, and will increase the likelihood that your bees thrive in their new homes. When you’re thinking about where you could place your hives, keep in mind that bees love the sun and it’s best to place hives where they will get the most of it. Face your hives south, as bees come and go during the daylight hours and the sun will light up the entrance as it travels from east to west across the sky, maximizing your bees’ workday.
It’s also a good idea to think about how non-beekeepers will be using your yard and what will be happening 10-15 feet in front of your hives. One way to visualize the bees’ flight path is to stand where you’re thinking of putting your hives and spray a garden hose 15 feet to 20 feet in front of you. What are the chances of someone, or something, getting wet? What kind of foot traffic does that area of the yard get?
If you think beekeeping might be right for you, join your local beekeeping club. A club is the best way to ensure success. You’ll find people who are willing to help you get started and answer your questions. Here in Ridgewood, the local club is the Northeast New Jersey Beekeepers Association, which serves Bergen County and the surrounding communities throughout Northern New Jersey. You can also check out the New Jersey State Beekeepers website, to find other clubs and events throughout the garden state. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with state beekeeping regulations, which can be found on the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s website.
Your beekeeping club will be the best resource for information on local beekeeping regulations, supplies, and where to buy your bees. Additionally, to learn about introduction to beekeeping classes that are offered in our area, check out Ridgewood Parks and Recreation for a schedule of upcoming classes and beekeeping events.
There are some great resources available to help you get started. The two best introductory how-to books on the market are:
The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden 4th Edition by Kim Flottum
Beekeeping For Dummies 5th Edition by Howland Blackiston
Also, while you have to always be careful about who you’re getting information from online, there are some very reliable beekeeping sources. The best ones are:
University of Florida Honey Bee Lab
University of Guelph Honey Bee Research Centre
Penn State Beekeeping