An Interview With Luke Pantos – Hobby Honey Farmer
As with many small insects that exist within the warm summer months, bees can make quite a nuisance of themselves while your trying to enjoy or an ice cream or soft drink. But if we take a closer look at what they are doing, we find that they are really involved with the very important job of making one of life’s sweetest tastes.
VIP Queen Bee
Making honey has these buzzing insects busy in and out of their beehives from spring until summer’s end. It takes cooperation and a sense of duty within the nest for everything to happen as it should in order for the finished product to be achieved.
Within the team there exist different types of bees. The VIP of them all is the queen bee, so-called because she has the important job of reproducing in order to keep the hive populated. She reproduces most effectively in her first and second year.
When the queen’s life span of 3-4 years is coming to an end, an extra supply of royal jelly – the food given to all developing larvae, will be given to a few chosen larvae to prepare a new queen. There is only ever one queen in a hive at a time, so when the new queen is close to emerging, the existing queen will vacate the nest and allow the new queen to take over.
As the new queen emerges, she immediately destroys any other developing queens before flying out of the hive to mate with the drones in order for her to reproduce. The drones have no other duty but this in their peculiar little lives. Those that do manage to mate with her will die immediately afterwards.
When a new batch of bees is due to be born the beekeeper has to check that the new bees will not overpopulate the nest, otherwise the queen will leave. If she does leave the hive, so too will the bees that live with her and the beekeeper will loose that entire bee population.
To avoid this happening the beekeeper will take out the original bee population and give them a new box, or new boxes, so that when the emerging bees are born there will be plenty of space for them and it will not create any problems.
It doesn’t take long for the bees to re-adjust to their new home. Bees are able to distinguish certain colours. They use both the scent and the colour of the box to know which is their own.
The right Flower
Worker bees have the most recognized job of all. It is their duty to collect nectar and pollen from the flowers and transport it back to the hive. Their entire body is designed for this purpose and they are able to carry a load that can be as heavy as their own body weight.
Good flowers are the key to good honey, this is where the expertise of the honey farmer can make a difference. Honey farmers know the distance the bees would usually go in looking for the right flowers, therefore choosing an area that is within close vicinity to a good flower source is important in getting a good resulting honey produce.
Before the worker bees know where to go for the right flower source, scout bees fly out and decide which flowers will be used. These scout bees have a special ‘dance’ called the dance of the bees, it tells the other bees the exact location of the chosen flower source. Their movements tell the bees which way, according to the sun, they must fly. Even the speed of their buzzing noise carries information as to the distance the worker bees must fly to find the correct flower.
When the bees get to the flower source, they could be presented with a mass of different flower types. The honey in any hive is only made from one flower type at a time. Therefore the bees must find the scent left by their own scouts to know specifically which flower group they are to use.
Winter For The Bees
In winter when the temperature decreases to about 5 degrees or lower, the bees accumulate in the middle of the honey box and huddle together forming a tight sphere. In this way they keep warm. As the temperature outside warms up and increases to about 14 degrees, the bees begin to emerge from their nest and fly around. If the temperature happens to drop again, they will once more return to their nest and form their sphere to keep warm.
Apart from their main produce of honey, the bees also create other certain by-products, two of these more well-known products are beeswax and royal jelly. It is with the beeswax that the bees construct their working environment. Royal jelly is the compound that the Queen produces to feed the developing larvae. People eat it as well, but in extremely small quantities, and it has a very high nutritional value.
Honey for Hobby
Honey farming can be as much a hobby as it is a profession, but any honey farmer will tell you that it is also an art. A keen hobbyist may have as many as 150 boxes, but even that is not enough to sustain a living. For a farmer to make enough money to have his bees as his full time profession, he will need as many as four to five hundred boxes.
A hobby farmer starting from scratch could use bees from a wild nest found in a tree or bush. First the bees must be encouraged to stay by giving them food such as a sweet dough substance or a syrup that will keep them from flying off. Then after a few days, wearing appropriate safety clothing, the farmer would carefully take the entire nest and tap it into his own honey box getting the bees to drop in.
These honey boxes are wooden and have a small entrance at the front where the bees move in and out from. It is not necessary to get each and every bee into the box, once the queen and most of the bees are in, the remaining bees will soon follow. The top of the box has a removable lid that the honey farmer opens when he works with the bees. Inside the box is a set of frames on which the bees will construct their intricate hexagonal architecture of beeswax filled with honey.
At harvesting time, the art of the beekeeper comes into play, where collecting the honey too early will result in an unsatisfactory produce. The beekeeper must have patience and give the bees enough time to work on the honey as they pass it through their system again and again. Finally, when it is the correct consistency, the bees will cap the honey cups with wax.
When it is ready, the beekeeper will lift the filled frames from the honey boxes and scrape off the wax cappings that cover the hexagonal honey cups. Then he slides the frames into a cylindrical drum. The drum spins around fast enough for the honey to fly off the frames. The honey runs down to the bottom of the cylinder and can then be poured out into containers for collection.
Experience Is What Makes The Difference
It takes many years of experience to understand the bees; what will help them produce well; what will make them desert their hive and fly off to find a new home; what weather makes them more aggressive to work with – all these things take experience and education.
But as with any art, there is a lot to enjoy. It is an interest that takes you out into the fresh air amongst fragrant and beautiful flowers. And, you get the opportunity to work hand in hand with nature as you assist in producing one of our most precious foods of all. Honey farming may not turn out to be everybody’s cup of tea but it can definitely make yours, much more tasty.
By Evangelia Zonnios