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The Mystery of Honeybees

by Jim Conley – CSU Extension Agent

HUERFANO- Thanks to all who turned out last weekend for our Hobby Beekeeping workshop!  We had a record-breaking 30 folks attend!  It appears that our “Living Off the Land” series of workshops is a hit!  Thanks to our own Janet Fink, student Master Beekeeper, for her leadership in organizing this informative event!  We were fortunate to have as our guest speaker, Mr. Bruno Mattedi, President of the Pikes Peak Beekeepers Club.  His most interesting statement was, “This is the only hobby I’ve ever found that pays for itself.”  And, he speaks with some authority on that, because he’s also a professional  income tax preparer!

How much do you know about honeybees?  If you’re like most of us, your knowledge is pretty limited, and the first thing you think of is your fear of being stung.  Actually, most honeybees are relatively gentle, and only sting if they feel threatened.  Over the centuries, beekeepers have selected bees for many desirable qualities, including gentleness.  However, the truth is that most beekeepers do experience an occasional sting.  Bruno pointed out that medical research shows that bee stings are therapeutic for arthritis.  Well, a silver lining in that cloud, so to speak.

Pre-historic Man gathered honey from beehives in hollow logs.  Early petroglyphs from Egyptian tombs include depictions of honeybees.  Honey isn’t mankind’s only interest in bees.  The complexity of their social lives has generated mystery and fascination about how bees live, work and reproduce.  Casual observation of a bee moving from flower to flower is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the real nature of honeybees.  The reality is that honeybees are industrious and tireless.  They are social insects, following a social order that has served them well for eons.  A beehive consists of a queen, several hundred drones and thousands of workers.  The drones are male, and except for mating with the queen, they are expendable.   The workers are females and they are the laborers of the hive.  Workers gather all the nectar and pollen, feed the young larvae, keep the hive temperature at the right level, protect the hive, build honeycomb and make honey.  During the summer nectar flow, usually June through August, worker honeybees travel an average of 55,000 miles to gather enough nectar to produce a single pound of honey!  Each individual worker will only produce about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey.  However, the entire hive will produce around 100 lbs of honey annually!

For a hobbyist, two hives are about the right number.  Two hives, with all equipment and bees will cost an average of approximately $500.   You can’t expect much of a honey crop during the first year of beekeeping.  The first year gives the bees a chance to reproduce and grow the size of their colony.  After the first year, they should be well established and ready to start making honey for you! 

We plan on sponsoring more beekeeping events over the course of the summer.  There is even a possibility that we’ll see a Beekeeping Club formed sometime this year.  We also discussed some field visits to apiaries that are located in the region.  Call our office at 738.2170 for more information, or to be put on our mailing list for future beekeeping events.