You may not have ever considered the importance of honeybees.
Many people hear the word bee and think of an annoying sting, Jerry Seinfeld’s “Bee Movie”, or if you are old enough, John Belushi’s role on Saturday Night Live as a menacing “King Bee”.
Most of us don’t immediately consider the immense role honeybees play in our economy.
Not just honey depends on bees for production.
Many fruit and vegetable products depend upon honeybees to do the intense work of pollination.
Pollination is required for production of the fruit crops and various plant products.
Bee populations have declined for a number of years.
A syndrome vaguely referred to as “honeybee colony collapse” has become widespread across the United States.
At least one parasite known as Nosema ceranae has been identified as a partial reason for the die off of the honeybees. Yet, researchers are still baffled to explain why the trend continues and how to reduce it.
In spite of intense effort from agricultural scientists, the bee population continues to decline.
You can be a part of the answer to this growing problem.
Amateur beekeepers can work to help stabilize the bee population.
Besides the 50 pounds to 60 pounds of pure, fresh, local honey you can expect, you would have the benefit of knowing you are contributing to improving our environment.
I contacted Keith Elrod, who serves as the president of the Rutherford County Chapter of the Tennessee Beekeepers Association to ask a few questions about how local novice beekeepers can get started.
Dr. Kestner: Keith, can you tell us why amateur beekeeping can be important?
Keith Elrod: I would be happy to answer your questions. Bees are very beneficial on a much more intense level than few would ever realize. The plants that are pollinated set more seed. This is very good for flowering plants that may be endangered as well as plants and trees that produce food for ourselves or wildlife.
Beekeeping is a way of participating in agriculture without the expense of large tracts of land. Lastly, beekeeping is a fascinating and interesting hobby that is rewarding on many levels from producing honey to making beeswax for candles to learning about an insect that ties all of nature together and makes it work!
Dr. Kestner: Before readers rush out to start a honeybee colony, are there any zoning restrictions on where bee hives may be located?
Keith Elrod: There are no zoning restrictions that I am aware of.
This is not necessarily a free pass however. We should be mindful and considerate of our neighbors.
Dr. Kestner: For a beginner, what would the cost be to start a honeybee colony?
Keith Elrod: The start-up cost can vary widely but is probably in the $150 to $250 range for one hive.
Dr. Kestner: Is the time of year important when establishing a new colony?
Keith Elrod: Yes, now is the best time of the year! This will give you time to assemble equipment as well as order bees for spring delivery.
Dr. Kestner: How much physical work is involved? Is it possible for most people to perform the work involved with a bee colony? For example, could senior citizens start a bee colony?
Keith Elrod: As with anything, the amount of physical work can be minimized with the proper planning and use of lighter, smaller hives. I have recently had very good results from using a six-frame hive. These work well for lady beekeepers as well as seniors who don’t want to lift the extra weight of a standard hive.
Dr. Kestner: Would having a bee colony help growers of fruits, vegetables and other plants?
Keith Elrod: Yes. Actually, the reason I got into beekeeping was to help pollinate some apple trees that I had planted.
I had more questions for Keith and he graciously provided more answers, but space limitations of this column prevent showing the complete interview.
To learn more about how you can get started in this beneficial and fascinating hobby, Keith invites you to contact him at 615-830-5240.
Next week: An enjoyable story about some surprising good news!
Dr. Mark Kestner