Good Life

Keeping bees at home is all the buzz

The co.space has a beehive on its dining room wall that bees access from a tube in the window.
The co.space has a beehive on its dining room wall that bees access from a tube in the window. adrey@centredaily.com

Beekeeping is all the buzz this time of the year.

It seemed best to get the requisite pun out of the way so that we can move onto the more important issues at hand, which at this moment happens to be cultivating your own home apiary.

If you’ve ever thought about getting your honey the old-fashioned way, here are a few helpful insights from those in the know.

Maneuvering the red tape

First things first — all new beekeepers need to register with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which can be done online or through the mail.

Each year during the active bee season, a team of apiary inspectors examine hives throughout the state. The co.space, a house devoted to students and young professionals who want to explore a passion to create, passed its first inspection recently.

Its apiary hangs squarely on the dining room wall, where thousands of bees labor behind a thick pane of glass. The bees can exit their box through a tube that runs through a carefully carved hole in the window sill.

“We haven’t touched it. It literally maintains itself,” said Spud Marshall, co-founder of the co.space.

Recruiting a workforce

Maryann Frazier recently retired from the department of entomology at Penn State. She has also worked with bees in Sudan, Uganda, Costa Rica and Panama.

These days, she works mostly from home.

Frazier and her husband live in Mount Union, where they manage 10 colonies of bees on a 113-acre farm.

She said that folks looking to jumpstart a hive of their own can purchase one from a veteran beekeeper or start out small with a prepackaged nucleus colony complete with a queen and 3 pounds of bees.

The hive, which is typically made up of a series of boxes, will get crowded fast — a queen lays roughly 1,000 eggs a day during the spring and summer.

Still, size isn’t everything.

“I’d rather have fewer colonies that produce more honey,” Frazier said.

Know your environment

Bears, as it turns out, consider baby bees to be an excellent source of protein — something that Frazier and her husband have to take into account near their farm.

They’ve accessorized accordingly with a sturdy bear fence.

Make sure you’re equipped for this

Frazier may just be braver than the rest of us.

When working with the bees on her farm, Frazier wears a protective veil — but not the rest of the traditional beekeeping ensemble. She said that she rarely gets stung.

But she’s a professional.

“Always when you start with bees, you’re afraid — rightfully so,” Frazier said.

Those finding their way around the apiary for the first time should consider reaching out to a seasoned keeper until they get their bee legs under them.

“A lot of beekeeping is learning how to manage that defensive behavior of the bees,” Frazier said.

Use your words. Or smoke. Just use the smoke.

Your natural impulse may be to swat an unruly bee. Fight this impulse.

A smashed bee releases an alarm pheromone that spurs its brethren to action — and you can’t get them all.

Smoke — like, say, the kind released by a standard issue bee smoker — helps to mask this pheromone and discourage swarming.

And you will get the occasional swarm, thanks in part to a bee’s natural inclination to keep making more bees.

Frazier said that when a new queen is born, the old queen abdicates the throne and takes a few loyal subjects with her to form a second hive somewhere else, leaving your burgeoning honey factory a few workers short.

At the co.space, swarming bees once helped to deter a neighboring frat party where the music had grown so loud that it was vibrating the dining room wall that the hive called home.

The bees started to swarm, and the party came to a swift end.

Keep an eye on the calendar

After the winter, Frazier said that the first order of business is making sure that the queen and the majority of the workforce survived all of the cold nights.

New colonies typically don’t produce much honey in the first year, but once the hive hits its prime, May and June mark peak months of performance in honey production.

Sweet, sweet honey

If you’d like a taste of some of the rewards of beekeeping, you can visit Frazier’s booth at the Boalsburg farmers market to sample some of her Singing Creek Farm wildflower honey.

The beekeeper is hoping that each of her colonies yields between 50 to 60 pounds of honey this season, which Frazier and her husband will then strain and bottle.

They strip the honey off of frames they pull from the hive, stripping the wax coating to harvest honey from the cells.

She said that people are on the look out for honey that is unfiltered and unheated.

“I think it really is the best honey,” Frazier said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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