Sunday, April 30, 2006

Why Bees?

Why Bees?
(Guest entry by David)

Many people have asked us “Why bees?” So here is my answer.

Last fall we began talking about increasing our livestock. We’ve always liked goat cheese and thought a few goats would help keep down the weeds in the yard, reducing the need for the John Deere. There are also a few goats breeds that can be raised for meat. With just 2 acres and a nice barn, we could easily take on a few goats.

Sheep were also a consideration. The neighbor’s boys raise sheep and have won numerous prizes in the county fair for their little lambs. The wool could be used or sold , or we could sell the offspring

Similar to sheep, we also considered another trendy animal – Alpacas. They make very gentle and loving pets and have valuable wool and a breeding pair can provide a significant income.

Ostriches are also trendy in some locations, be we never seriously considered them in our climate. However we considered a variety of other birds including chickens, turkeys and peacocks (we have plenty of “free-range” geese already).

I’ve also dreamed of having horses for a long time. Last fall I even bought a couple of books on how to keep horses on small acreages. I began a brief self-study on the needs of horse keeping.

One of our criteria was that we wanted something that would be productive. We wanted something that could provide useful food or some other form of gain (riding also counts) for the trouble. Being the engineer I am, I began to think about the benefit to effort ratio of various choices. That got me thinking about the efforts.

As I dug into the horse books, I soon realized how MUCH work they are. Sure I have three strong boys, but none of them are begging for a horse, so adding more to their chore list didn’t sound like a good idea. I was also reminded how much I don’t like the flies that come with horses.

At one point during our consideration, Becky and I started planning our summer vacation. I suddenly realized how hard it would be to find care for most of the animals we were considering and how tied down to the house we’d be if we had goats, chickens, or alpacas.

In one of the gardening magazines there was an article about beekeeping. Becky asked if we could do that on our property and she was serious that she would even consider bees. I quickly went through the benefit to effort ratio for bees: There are no worries about buying feed or keeping them watered, you don’t need any fencing to keep them contained and best of all, there is no shoveling of poop!

On the production side, a single hive of honey bees typically produces about 100 pounds of honey per year. Finally the clincher was that we could still go on a vacation for a full week or two and never have to hire anyone to care for them while we were gone. They are very low maintenance and only need attention a couple of times per month during the flowering season and during the winter, no attention at all. Best of all Becky agreed to be the official beekeeper and I am just the helper.

The bees are due to arrive on Friday of this week, and I’ll be out there with the camera as Becky puts her bare hands into the box of 30,000 live honey bees. Let the buzzing begin!

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