You Can Grow It: Backyard beehives

Jim Duthie shows us how to get started.

BOISE - Are you an apiarist?  Or do you want to become one?  In case you have no idea what that is - an apiarist is a fancy name for a beekeeper. It seems more and more people are becoming backyard beekeepers.

KTVB garden master Jim Duthie gives us the buzz on bees, and what it takes to set up a backyard beehive of your own.

Beekeeping, or apiculture, is becoming one of America's fastest-growing hobbies.  And no wonder! You get a lot of benefits from it, plus you help the environment – bees are essential to pollination – so no wonder there's a lot of buzz about backyard beehives.

On the roof of Boise State’s Student Union Building, workers are as busy as bees. In fact, they are bees. These beehives are a project of the BSU Bee Team Club, one of a growing number of small beekeeping operations that are becoming popular around the country.

The honey and wax products they harvest here are actually sold in the BSU Bookstore. Proceeds from their sales supports the beekeeping operation, as well as providing public education and awareness about honeybees.

So if you're thinking about starting a backyard beehive of your own, here are a few things to consider.

"I think the first step to getting started as a beekeeper is to get connected with other beekeepers in our area," said Melinda Jean Stafford, BSU Bee Team Club advisor.

Local organizations, like the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club, can offer advice to help you get started. 

"I think it's important to be considerate of your neighbors. Talk with your neighbors and let them know what you are doing," said Stafford.

Bees will fly several miles from their hive each day.  And while they aren't typically aggressive, some people might be concerned about having an active beehive next door.

"I don't think people should be afraid of bees, especially when they're out and about in their gardens or in their backyard,” said Stafford. “Bees, when they're pollinating flowers, they're not inherently defensive. They're out collecting resources to bring back to their homes."

Bees collect nectar from blossoms and flowers, which they bring back to the hive to turn into honey.

"That's their food source,” said Stafford. “So bees create honey, not for our consumption, but for them to be able to get through winter and survive the cold season."

A man-made beehive consists of a wooden box, with an opening for the bees to fly in and out of. The box is filled with frames on which the bees make and store their honey.

"This is a plastic foundation that gives them a base to build off of," said Stafford. "So this is a little bit of honey here, and here in the corners. But on some frames it'll be solid frames of honey."

Each hive box holds ten frames, and multiple boxes can be stacked up depending on the space the bees need.  Beginning colonies may consist of about 10,000 bees, but can grow to as many as 60,000 bees before the hive divides.

"Yes, and that happens in the middle of spring, so right now is when a lot of that's happening,” said Stafford. “They're called swarming, and the bees population will grow and expand, and their natural way of keeping their species alive is to split."

The queen and about half of the bees will take off and find a new home, leaving the other half of the bees in the old hive with a new queen. Each hive consists of three types of bees.

"There's the queen bee, and there's just one, and she's the one that lays all the eggs to create the new bees and keep the population going," said Stafford.

Then there are worker bees, that do all the work of the hive, from foraging for nectar, to creating the bees wax, to raising the young.  They're the bees that you see flying around from blossom to blossom.

And the queen and the workers are all females.

"It's a woman's world in a beehive, so they're the ones doing all of the work," said Stafford.

The male bees are called drones, and there are usually only a few hundred of them in a hive.

"They don't have stingers, so they can't defend the hive like the workers can. And so their role is merely to help repopulate," said Stafford. 

Queen bees can live multiple years. Workers and drones only live about 45 days. 

So what's all the buzz about having a beehive in your backyard?

"Some people are in it because they love honey and they want to create honey and have honey and sell honey. Some people are in it for the pollination factor,” said Stafford. "But for me, I really enjoy beekeeping because of the art of it, the inspecting the hives, seeing what's going on. And for me, beekeeping allows me to see the world differently than I've ever seen it before. Plus, I get honey and I get to give away some pretty awesome Christmas gifts."

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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