If you are reading this you must be curious about Apis mellifera (Latin for bee carrying honey). Maybe you intellectually know how important bees are as pollinators and in keeping us humans fed. Maybe you are a gardener and simply love bees buzzing in your flowers. On the other hand, maybe you are terrified of bees and wondering, why would anyone invite 60,000 or more stinging insects into their yard?! It does seem a bit crazy, but as an urban beekeeper I can assure you that honeybees are gentle and that a hive is practically invisible unless you stand a few feet from it.
Minneapolis residents can now legally keep backyard honeybees. Beekeeping is also permitted in St. Paul and some suburban locations; review local ordinances for policies and requirements such as fences. There are many urban beekeepers and I imagine we all have differing motivations; the most obvious being honey, the amazing gift of sweet light made from countless gardens and trees. Others may raise bees because they are aware of the challenges that bees are facing. Our bee populations are struggling to survive the challenges of herbicides, pesticides, dwindling habitats and disease. These beekeepers are hoping to raise healthy, resistant bees. Oddly enough, the city of Minneapolis is proving to be a great place to raise bees due to the diversity of flower gardens and potentially less chemical use than a rural farmscape.
Personally, I began beekeeping in the city because I have what I call self-sufficiency tendencies… a desire to be as close as possible to who and what feeds and fuels me. Since starting beekeeping five years ago, my motivations have evolved from the delight of honey to a deep infatuation with the bee and a concern for its health. I am thankfully aware of the impression my bees have made upon me, deepening my connection to the natural world and my awareness of the seasons. I find myself intoxicated by the blooms of the season, planting gardens the bees desire and thinking about the health of our environment—not just for the bees but for all beings, including us. I have come to see the bee as an important indicator species, its wellbeing inextricably linked to ours.
If you are thinking about keeping bees, I suggest taking the U of M Beekeeping Course offered every March (sign up early). I took this course and found that I had learned just enough to get started. I’ve been beekeeping for 5 years now and I still find myself in awe and mystified by my bees, constantly wondering what they are doing and learning as I go. The active beekeeping season begins in March when it is warm enough to check on the hives. If new bees are ordered, they will arrive in late April or May. I work with the bees about 20 times during the year, opening the hives up only when I feel it is necessary to investigate their health, the activity of the queen, to make sure they aren’t crowded, to add boxes for honey, to take honey or to treat them for disease or the ever present mite. Visitations into the hive are as frequent as needed but not more. General suggestion is to check on your hive about every 10 days. Each visit is an exciting pleasure, demanding focused observation and calmness. The beekeeping season slows down once the temperatures cool and you have harvested your honey. By late November your hives should be closed up for the winter allowing them to retain their natural heat from buzzing about and eating lots of honey.
To begin beekeeping, expect to spend about $360 the first year for the hive boxes, the smoker, a bee suit, gloves, a hood and a few tools. The bees can be ordered online in February and they will cost an additional $65 dollars for one package containing a queen bee and about 20,000 worker bees. Add another $100 for your city of Minneapolis beekeeping permit, and possibly more depending on fencing requirements.
Beekeeping may seem like an expensive hobby, but I am quite certain that selling my honey pays for my habit and a bit more. You won’t get much honey the first year since the bees are expending so much energy on creating the honeycomb. Bees need about 90 pounds of honey to survive the winter. During the following years you can expect to take about 100 pounds from each hive annually, depending upon the weather, the health of the queen and the hive.
The honey is a sweet reward for the labor you expend throughout the year. This calls for a grand celebration of nature’s abundance and of the end of a summer full of blooming trees, vegetables and flowers. Extracting honey by hand (with a rented extractor from a local bee supplier) isn’t for the weak of heart nor something I would want to do alone. It is more of an excuse to have friends gathered together in sweaty, sticky sweetness, sharing in the revelry of the freshest, most delicious honey to be found.
“I wouldn’t promise that I would raise bees, even if there wasn’t the great gift of honey, but I might.”
Elise Kyllo, nicknamed Beeze at age 11.
Clan Apis by Jay Hosler. Active Synapes 2000.
The New Complete Guide to Beekeeping by Roger A. Morse. The Countryman Press 1994.
Natural Beekeeping by Ross Conrad. Chelsea Green Publishing 2007.
BEES & SUPPLIES
Cannon Bee Supply
Little Canada MN