The idea of keeping honey bees began when I visited the hive of Dudley Beck, a retired physician and friend in Bluff, Utah. For years, Dudley infected me with his enthusiasm for learning how a colony of honey bees forms a home-building, nectar-gathering, hive-heating organism.
In 2015, my wife, Amy Prince, and I decided to enter the world of beekeeping after we took a class about Biodynamic Beekeeping at the Willow Bend Environmental Education Center in Flagstaff. The class was taught by Patrick Pynes, a passionate, organic, high-altitude beekeeper in Flagstaff, who continues to urge us to learn from and about these amazing creatures.
In May 2016, we drove to Utah to get our hive, a queen and thousands of Italian honeybees. We set up the top-bar-style hive on our two-acre lot in a neighborhood a mile north of Flagstaff Medical Center. Recently passed ordinances allow for the placement of honey bee hives within Flagstaff city limits. Since May, our bees have developed into a colony of approximately 50 to 60 thousand bees.
Our understanding of honey bees comes the Northern Arizona Organic Beekeepers Association (azorganicbeekeepers.org), the book Beekeeping for Dummies, the internet and simply observing the hive.
History tells us beekeeping, formally called apiculture, began about 15,000 years ago. Three-thousand-year-old pots of honey have been excavated from the tombs of the Egyptian pyramids and found to be perfectly edible. In addition to consuming honey, ancient civilizations used virtually all the timeless products found in beehives.
Here are some of the benefits of bees and their products:
Nothing is sweeter than honey
Honey is rich in nutritional and medicinal benefits. A tablespoon of raw honey contains 64 fat-free, cholesterol-free and sodium-free calories that are roughly 80-percent carbohydrates, 18-percent water and 2-percent vitamins, minerals and amino acids. This unprocessed sugar quickly enters the bloodstream to deliver a boost of energy.
The antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties may be effective in treating a wide variety of health conditions such as stomach and intestinal disorders, autoimmune conditions, insomnia and hormone imbalances.
Honey helps the body absorb calcium, a necessary mineral for brain health, therefore helping improve memory. Tryptophan, an amino acid in honey, is converted into serotonin and then into melatonin, which is a sleep aid.
Bee venom therapy for arthritis
Known as a herbal acupuncture, the venom is extracted, diluted and administered to specific locations on the body. It can be used to treat arthritis, pain syndrome, progressive muscle atrophy and some other conditions.
Bee pollen for human “bee-ings”
It takes one bee working eight hours to produce a teaspoon of pollen. Bee pollen contains nearly all the nutrients needed by humans: protein, amino acids, vitamins, enzymes, fatty acids and folic acid. Ounce-per-ounce it contains more amino acids than beef, eggs or cheese, and has more protein than any animal source protein.
Ingesting bee pollen, especially “local” pollen, may be a good homeopathic remedy for allergy symptoms caused by blossoming plants in the spring and fall. Additionally, bee pollen has been used to treat health conditions ranging from prostate health to skin care.
Jelly fit for a queen
Produced by worker bees to nourish future queen bees, royal jelly is a viscous, milky substance that is used to fight the effects of aging and boost the immune system. It can be used to treat asthma, hay fever, liver and kidney disease, pancreatitis, insomnia, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), stomach ulcers, bone fractures, menopausal symptoms, skin disorders and high cholesterol. Some people apply it directly to the skin as a tonic or to the scalp to encourage hair growth.
Beehive caulk to the rescue
Bees use resins from trees and plants to make a sticky substance, called propolis, to repair cracks in their hives. Humans use this bee glue to help prevent and treat numerous illnesses. Many believe propolis is useful in fighting cancer by preventing the growth of new cancer-feeding blood vessels and halting cancer cell division. Propolis may also decrease the side effects of chemotherapy.
Pollination of plants
Plants need to be pollinated for survival and growth. Honey bees are responsible for about 80 percent of pollination by insects. The disappearance of bees and bee colonies, first noted in 2006, is known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists hypothesize the decrease of bee colonies is the result of less vegetation and bees’ weakened immunity due to the growing use of commercial pesticides.
The joys of beekeeping
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of beekeeping is the joy of caring for and observing the hive and its inhabitants. Witnessing the complex and coordinated society of bees brings amazement and appreciation for the natural world. Just sitting with the bees in nature brings a sense of calm and connection that comes with being part of something greater.