September is National Honey Month, and we are getting the scoop from UA Little Rock’s resident beekeeper, Peter Stuckey, who is also a database administrator in Information Technology Services. National Honey Month promotes American beekeeping, the beekeeping industry, and honey as a natural and beneficial sweetener.
How long have you been beekeeping, and how did you get started?
I have been keeping bees for nine years. I started keeping bees when I heard about Colony Collapse Disorder. Beekeepers were seeing a large number of beehives dying out or absconding (leaving/disappearing). At the time there was a very strong fear that we were losing our beehives. Bees pollinate one out of every three bites of food we eat.
I began to research how I could help. Some solutions were to reduce the use of pesticides, plant large plots of pollinator friendly flowers, and if possible keep bees myself. I then found that in Little Rock a property owner is allowed to keep two hives of bees per city lot. I then started watching a lot of Youtube videos about beekeeping and visiting websites. I checked out the “Beekeeping for dummies” book from the library. When I canceled a visit to my parents so I could attend a Beekeeping conference at the Extension service, my wife knew we were getting bees.
What is involved in taking care of a colony of bees and harvesting their honey?
Bees have been caring for themselves for thousands of years. My role as a beekeeper is to provide space for the bees to grow and store the honey. Additional steps I can take is to treat the bees for various pests and diseases.
Harvesting honey is an involved process and requires pulling heavy boxes of honey off of the hives, uncapping the honeycomb, and then spinning it in an extractor. The extracted honey is then strained and put into bottles. Beekeeper honey is often better for you and tastes better than commercial honey because it is in a raw form. Commercial honey is often heated and filtered (which destroys the pollen in the honey as well as other beneficial compounds).
How much honey does a colony make?
It depends on the number of bees in the hive. It takes 12 worker bees their entire life to produce one teaspoon of honey. A worker’s life is about six weeks, with the last three weeks being time spent outside of the hive collecting nectar to make honey. In an average strong hive, there will be around 90k worker bees. I estimate that I get about 25-35 pounds of honey from a honey super (box).
The UA Little Rock Campus Garden has honeybees. Can you tell us how many colonies they have and how you look after them?
We currently have eight hives in the campus garden. As I said before, my role is to make sure they have space and to care for their health. Generally, I visit the bees around two times a month, a few more times a month in the spring. I take about 30 minutes per hive so I take about three hours per visit.
What happens to the honey collected from the Campus Garden?
Some of the honey is donated to the Campus Garden to be sold as part of their farm stand events. I also sell the honey to the campus members and others I know.
What impact do honeybees have on the environment?
More than 100 important crops are pollinated by honey bees. This includes many of the fruits and vegetables that we eat, but also a number of important crops such as nuts, herbs, spices, oilseed crops, forage for dairy and beef cattle, as well as medicinal and numerous ornamental plants. Even plants that are not grown for their fruits require pollination in order to propagate them by seed. Honey bees add an estimated $15 billion to the U.S. economy each year in increased crop yields.
What advice would you give for someone who wants to learn more about beekeeping and harvesting honey?
My advice would be to find more information regarding beekeeping from books, Youtube, and the local beekeepers association. Beekeepers, by nature, are very helpful as well, so I would try to work with a mentor.
What else would you like to add?
Honeybees are very focused on their work. If you see a bee working flowers, you don’t have to be afraid of them because she doesn’t care about you. You aren’t a threat to her hive or to her. If you harass her, then her opinion of you may change and she may deem you as a threat. Just let her do her thing and if you have to be where she is, just move in in a non-threatening way and she will move on.
If you come upon a swarm or see a swarm flying in the air, generally, they are also not going to bother you. On occasion a bee may get stuck in your hair, a freaky experience with all that buzzing. If one does, just flip your hair to knock her out of your hair and she will go on.
If you have a bee getting “in your face” literally, she is telling you to move on and leave the area. You are very likely near her hive. If you can identify the location of the hive, then move in a direction away from it. After you have moved far enough away, she will leave you alone.
If you have bees somewhere inconvenient like in your house or in a tree very close to your house, call a beekeeper to help you remove them. We try desperately to relocate instead of euthanizing bees.