This is an interview with Sarah Worley who is a hobby beekeeper in California. She keeps hives at her farm and at another location near her. Follow her beekeeping and farming adventures at www.beewenchfarm.com or www.beewench.blogspot.com
How did you become interested in beekeeping?
I got interested in beekeeping about 4 years ago after seeing an article about “The Bee Movie”. I was amazed to learn that 1/3 of all the foods we eat is pollinated by bees and that bees were declining in numbers around the world.
How do you get started in beekeeping?
First I read and read and read…then I joined a local beekeepers group and asked questions. Its really important that you talk with beekeepers in your local area if possible, because each region is different for bee management.
What kind of gear do you need before you begin?
First, of course, you need a hive. There are a couple of different types of hives to choose from. There is the Langstroth hive, which is the typical square box you see. There is the Top Bar Hive, which is a long trough shaped hive that is managed a little bit differently. You need a veil to protect your face and a hive tool at minimum. I also would suggest a smoker and a bee jacket and gloves. You also need bees!
Where did you get your bees and gear from?
I got my bees from feral swarms in my area. I gave my name to local farm supply stores, police and fire departments for them to call me if anyone reported a swarm in their area. I purchased most of my gear and one of my hives from beekeeping supply companies. My Top Bar Hives were built by my dad and me.
You said you have a Top Bar Hive, what does that mean?
A Top Bar Hive is a horizontal trough shaped hive that is commonly used in tropical or more temperate climates. Instead of adding boxes, or supers, on top of the hive like a Langstroth hive, you had bars along the length of the hive for the bees to build their comb on.
Is there a benefit to Top Bar hives?
I prefer working with Top Bar Hives because I feel they are less invasive during inspections. I only have to move a bar or two at a time to check on the bees instead of taking the entire top off the hive.
Have you ever been stung?
Hahaha! Yes, of course. I get asked this a lot, and yes, I’ve been stung. It isn’t a big deal, it hurts for a moment and then is gone. I make every effort to not get stung but sometimes it happens.
Were you scared or nervous when you first started?
I was a little nervous. Mostly because I wanted to make sure the bees were taken care of properly, and I was a little scared of getting stung. I dont know why, it’s not a big deal. And after it finally happened I decided to stop being nervous. It’s really important when you are working with the bees to be calm and relaxed because the bees can sense your worry and may become more agitated.
How much time does it take to take care of your hives?
Personally, I dont spend a lot of time on my hives. I prefer to let the bees do their own thing as much as possible. I figure that the bees having been taking care of themselves in the wild for a long time, they can probably continue that. I check that there are bees flying in and out of the hive every week or so and do hive checks about 3 times a year. 2 times a year when I harvest and once during the winter to make sure the bees have plenty of honey to last them. Luckily, I live in a temperate climate and can check the bees during the winter on a sunny day.
How many hives do you have? How much honey do you get from each?
Currently I have 3 hives. Two Top Bar Hives and one Langstroth hive. This spring I plan to add two more Top Bar Hives. I dont take a lot of honey from my bees normally. Like I said, I dont do a lot of management and we only use the honey for ourselves. This year and last year, I’ve harvested about 2 gallons of honey from each hive during the year. I harvest once in late spring and once in late summer to take advantage of the different nectar flows. Harvesting this small amount leaves the bees with plenty of honey to get them through the winter.
What else can you do with bees besides get honey?
Well, there is the beeswax and pollen and also propolis. I use the beeswax from my bees for making soap and beauty products like lipbalm. Many people feel that pollen and propolis have healing properties and it is well known that consuming local pollen helps with seasonal allergies.
Are there different types of honey?
Yes, there are. The type of honey is determined by location and time of the year, or nectar flow. Many beekeepers move their bees to certain “crops” to take advantage of the nectar flow. Lavendar, Orange and Buckwheat are very popular for beekeepers. During the spring the honey is traditionally lighter in color with a sweeter taste. During the late summer or fall the honey is darker in color, with a deeper taste.
How long does a bee live?
On average a worker bee lives 40-50 days. A queen bee usually has a lifespan of 4-8 years.
Is it true there is only one queen in the hive?
Yes, each hive only has one queen. That queen lays all of the eggs in the hive.
What is your favorite part of beekeeping?
All of it! Seriously, I love being a beekeeper…its so much fun to watch the bees go about their work. Each bee has a job in the hive and the hive works so well because each bee does its job. I love the sweet golden honey we get during the year and answering all the questions people have about beekeeping.