Jennifer Holmes started her beekeeping journey with a book called “Beekeeping for Dummies,” today she is a beekeeper in Stuart, Florida, and owns and operates Hani Honey Company together with her family. Jennifer is a UFIFAS Master Beekeeper and Honey Judge. She enjoys serving on her Local Slow Food Chapter Board, Slow Bees Community, and Florida State Beekeepers Association Board.
In her recent webinar, organized by Slow Food USA, she shared her knowledge and advice about beekeeping. Here are some highlights from her talk.
Challenging Times for Beekeepers and Bees
Unlike pets, bees have a very cyclical life cycle and beekeepers have to work tirelessly to provide the bees what they need to keep them alive. Currently, bees throughout the world are facing unprecedented extension rates, and according to Holmes, one of the reasons is a very dire lack of forage in our environment, which has a direct impact on bee nutrition.
Holmes says that currently, in Florida, there is much less forage than a couple of decades ago. For instance, one of the most delicious honey produced in Florida is Gallberry Honey. However, this type of honey is rare and not easy to get anymore. Holmes explains that the pine trees that grow among the gallberry bushes are sought for their pine needles. Unfortunately, chemical treatment is used on the ground to deter from anything else growing on the forest floor.
Another type of very popular honey produced on the East Coast of the United States is Orange blossom honey. However, the crops are suffering, and that affects the production of honey. 15 years ago, Holmes used to make 120 pounds (54 kg) of orange blossom honey per one bee colony, while today, the beekeeper makes 10 to 20 pounds (5-10 kg) of orange blossom honey per colony.
In 2018, scientists revealed alarming numbers, stating that within a winter period of 6 months, 40% of honey-bee colonies in the US died. Over the past 15 years, scientists have been talking about the colony collapse disorder, which might be caused by the use of pesticides, various infections or changes in beekeeping practices.
Holmes encourages every farmer and beekeeper not to wait for governments to change the laws and regulations, but to take their own responsibility and increase the diversity of the food they grow, reduce the use of chemicals, and plant as many pollinator-friendly plants as possible.
For anyone who might consider keeping the bees and so in this way to help to increase pollination, Holmes stresses the importance of having a proper safety gear. She advises while working with the bees to wear light and loose clothes as bees do not like dark colors. A long sleeve shirt or a bee jacket, which is designed to protect from stinging, are also part of safety gear along with a hat with an attached veil and gloves.
Every beekeeper also needs to have a so-called J-hook hive tool, which has a curved hook. It is used primarily for prying the hive frames loose while reducing potential damage done to both the frame and comb. Another important equipment that beekeepers have is a smoker, which is used to calm the bees so that a beekeeper can access a hive.
If you decide to keep bees, it is important to have a hive correctly set up. Holmes notes that beekeepers need to make sure they have good access to hives and bees are up off the ground to be free from predation and flooding.
The experienced beekeeper also advises not to stand in front of a hive, where bees come and go, as every bee colony has guard bees who might come and sting you. The best way to enter the hive is from the side.
Inside a Beehive
Homes advises to check the hives every two weeks, or weekly when there is an active nectar flow. Even though bees can fly a mile or more to get some food and water, most beekeepers make sure to put some water source near an apiary. Every time they inspect the hives, beekeepers determine the health and productivity of the colony.
One of the essential tasks of every beehive inspection is to find eggs, which indicate that the bee queen is alive and well and laying eggs. Every beekeeper also examines the brood pattern, which, if it is tight and compact, indicates a good, healthy queen.
You should place the bees in the safe area, where people and animals do not walk and do not cross bee flying paths.
Holmes adds that typically beekeepers are plant keepers too so that bees and other pollinators could pollinate the plants and survive in this way, while we, at the same time, could eat the food we like, for instance, tasty fruits or vegetables.