The Benefits of Keeping Bees
If you haven't paid much attention to bees before, you may only see them as a nuisance during your summer barbecues. But keeping bees can offer a number of benefits.
So what are the benefits of keeping bees? Are you debating whether beekeeping is a hobby you want to get into or not? Here are 14 benefits to keeping bees that you should take into account:
In this article, we'll look at the environmental, financial, and social impacts that keeping bees can have on us as humans.
It Helps the Environment
Bees are pollinators which transfer pollen from one flower to another. This fertilizes plants so that they can grow and reproduce.
Not only are bees critical to agriculture and growing food, accounting for as much as 30% of the world's food production, they're necessary for wild plants as well. It's estimated that as many as 90% of wild plants rely on pollinators like bees to survive and thrive. Without bees, many of these plants would just die off.
Bees don't only help the immediate area where they're kept. They can gather nectar and pollen from miles around, spreading diversity and sustainability throughout the ecosystem that they're a part of.
It Helps the Economy
In America, over $15 billion worth of crops are pollinated by bees each year. This includes everything from fruits like berries and apples to vegetables like cucumbers. And even almonds!
The honey that bees produce in the US alone is worth about $150 million annually.
Fewer bees in the world means lower crop yields, higher production costs, and higher prices for customers as well. So keeping bees could indirectly lower the prices that you end up paying for fruits and vegetables at the grocery store if more people did it!
It's a Fascinating Subject to Study
When you take the time to inspect your beehives and see how everything works, it can be truly awe-inspiring.
Most people go about their daily lives without much concern for how much detail and work is going on in the lives of bees.
A hive of bees has a complex social structure, their own way of communicating with each other, and many other intriguing aspects that are much more valuable to learn by direct observation than from a book.
Once you start keeping bees, you see their handiwork everywhere in the natural world. Every plant, tree, or flower is part of a giant interconnected web with bees playing a huge role. You take more notice of the effects that seasons play on the environment since they have such a big impact on the behavior and day to day operations of your hive.
And you’ll be in good company! Did you know that the Greek philosopher Aristotle studied bees. And apparently Scarlett Johansson keeps bees as well!
It Passes on Great Lessons to Kids
It doesn't matter what your age is. Beekeeping can be a rewarding experience whether you're young or old. With adult supervision, it's something kids of any age can enjoy.
Beekeeping teaches kids about the natural life cycles in the natural world around them. It's an excellent way to get children to care about the environment and want to be a part of taking care of it.
If you haven't got kids of your own, any school, youth organization, or garden club would likely love to have you come speak and share your knowledge about bees with them.
It Can Provide a Great Sense of Community
No matter where you live, you likely have a beekeeping association within driving distance that holds weekly, monthly, or quarterly meetings. It can be a fantastic place to build a network of friends and fellow bee aficionados.
Some people bond and find friends while playing sports. Others are members of a local rock and fossil club. If your interest is beekeeping, why not find some friends who are interested in the same thing?
Even when you're talking to non-beekeepers, the average person is still intrigued by the idea. You can always have something interesting to say to strangers at a party. Just strike up a conversation about how you're a beekeeper!
You might be surprised at how many beekeepers live around you that you aren't aware of.
It's Relaxing and can Calm Stress
Like many hobbies, beekeeping is something that you can relax and lose yourself in. Many beekeepers feel that their hobby reduces stress.
As an outsider, you might not think that dealing with a community of creatures with stingers on them would be very soothing. But once you give beekeeping a try, you may find that it's a very calming experience.
Beekeeping allows you an opportunity to forget about your daily problems for a bit and feel at peace with nature.
Improves Pollination of Garden Crops and Flowers
Bees can help your own garden, not just full-scale farms.
Keeping bees can make your garden's flowers larger and more plentiful. It will also dramatically increase the yield of your vegetables and plants that require pollination to produce fruit. So if you're looking to have the biggest tomato harvest that you've ever had, add some bees to your yard!
Just one bee hive is enough to dramatically increase the number of flowers within gardens for a mile or two around their hive. So you're helping to beautify your entire neighborhood.
Your garden’s flowers will flourish like never before!
Bees can Fit Anywhere
You might have the impression that bees are always loudly buzzing around. But the truth is that they're usually very quiet. Practically silent from a distance of a few feet.
Bees need very little space. Most beehives measure no more than 20 inches by 16 inches, so they won't take up more than a few square feet of your property. Subject to your local laws, of course.
They're also very independent. Almost anyone can make bees work, even if you've got a full-time job. They don't require much maintenance at all. Usually about 30 minutes per week once everything is set up, plus a little extra time to collect honey each year.
Bees don't care if you live in the suburbs, on a farm, or even if you want to keep them on the rooftop of an apartment building in the middle of a city!
You Get to Dress like an Astronaut
This is just subjective, but I think beekeeper suits look pretty darn cool. You're like an astronaut bravely exploring a new world. A world of bees!
I've seen some beekeepers who bravely tend to their hives in just a t-shirt. That's not me. I want to do everything I can to prevent getting stung by my bees, even if they're usually friendly. Especially on the face!
The most important thing is to feel comfortable around your bees. If you get anxious about getting stung every time you visit them, you’ll stop attending to them as much. And that’s a pity, because beekeeping should be fun. Get a bee suit! There are some brilliant ones to choose from - check out some reviews on Amazon
They Produce a Bunch of Goods
Beekeeping is one of those hobbies that actually pay you back and then some.
When you think of the items that you get out of a beehive, honey is the first that comes to mind. But did you know that beehives produce a number of other products including beeswax, honeycomb, propolis, pollen, and royal jelly?
Some of these are food products, others have medical benefits, and others can be made into products like candles and cosmetics.
You can use the numerous products that you obtain from your beehive for your own consumption, or share them with your family and friends.
So far we've only talked about honey. The other products that bees produce also have health benefits as well.
For example, propolis has been shown to help with allergies, oral, dermatological, and gastrointestinal problems. Royal jelly is known for having protective effects on reproductive health, wound healing, neurodegenerative effects, and aging.
Basically, most of the products that come out of beehives are considered super-foods!
Bee stings are even being investigated for their potential use in the treatment of arthritis. Bee venom contains anti-inflammatory properties which may be used to alleviate pain from such conditions.
Honey has Health Benefits
Some people say that eating local honey can help you build up an immunity to allergies. The logic behind the claim is that because bees are gathering pollen from where you live, you'll be eating small amounts of the pollen of local flowers and getting immunized, lowering the amount of irritation you'll feel during allergy season.
People make a number of other health claims about honey including:
Not all of these claims about honey have been scientifically tested, so we can't say for sure that honey is a miracle cure. What we do know for sure is that it's a healthier alternative to refined sugar, and it can be full of nutrients like niacin, riboflavin, iron, and manganese.
Honey also doesn't spoil under most circumstances. Archeologists excavating Egyptian pyramids have found honey that's over 3,000 years old and still perfectly edible!
Did you know that the honey you buy in supermarkets probably comes from China or South America and has been pasteurized! This heat treatment destroys some of the nutriments naturally found in honey. There is absolutely nothing as marvelous as the taste and smell of fresh honey, and any novice beekeeper can produce honey as easily as a someone with years of experience.
The types of flowers that bees collect their honey from has some impact on the flavor of the final product. The most common kinds of honey are made with flavors of alfalfa, clover, or wildflowers. By keeping your own bees and having them harvest from the flowers in your local area, you may end up with a one-of-a-kind honey flavor that you can't buy in stores!
They Earn Their Keep
We mentioned earlier that beehives create a number of products that you can use for your own consumption and give to family and friends. But if you have multiple hives, you might even want to consider selling some of your hive's products to earn a side income or full-time income.
Besides the fact that you can sell honey and beeswax that your bees create, you can sell the bees themselves. You can raise bees for sale, with queen bees particularly fetching a premium. Bees multiply like crazy under ideal conditions. If one hive gets too crowded, you can separate out some of the bees and sell them to other beekeepers who are looking to establish new hives.
You can also hire your hives out to farmers, who often rent active beehives as an efficient method of pollinating their crops.
Even a hobbyist who only has one hive can make a nice profit from their bee by-products.
Bees don't Cost Very Much
Building off the last point, how many hobbies do you know that can actually pay for themselves or earn you extra money instead of emptying your wallet?
Think about all the other hobbies you can get into. Photography, motorcycle riding, mountain climbing, scuba diving, fishing, sailing. Most hobbies out there will cost you hundreds of dollars to get started. That's on the low end, with many requiring thousands of dollars worth of investments to get serious about them.
Getting your first beehive set up doesn't cost all that much in comparison. Usually about $500 to get everything you need including bee boxes, your bees, and all of your clothing and equipment.
The same argument also applies to different kinds of livestock if bees are going to be a part of your farm. How much does it cost to raise chickens or a cow compared to bees? Spoiler alert, it's a lot more.
And if having plain white hives aren't your thing, you can paint beehives with any designs and colors you want.
You Might Get a Tax Break
If you're keeping bees with the reasonable expectation of earning an income, then it counts as having a business.
Even if you're only tending to your bees part-time and you only go to the farmer's market a couple of times per month to sell your honey and other bee-made goods.
That suddenly means that all of your beekeeping supplies suddenly become expenses on your annual tax return!
Of course, this also means that you have to declare any income that you make from beekeeping on your taxes as well. But getting to deduct your bee boxes, bee suit, smoker, and even your bees themselves is a pretty good deal.
Of course, be sure to check with your accountant or tax preparer to make sure this is the case where you live.
Does Keeping Bees have any Disadvantages?
Beekeeping is sometimes hard work. It can be physically tiring. It requires discipline, and you'll need to be punctual about checking your hive fairly regularly. Your hives will especially need tending to in the summer months when they're most active, so it's difficult to go away for a vacation and leave your bees to fend for themselves for weeks at a time.
(If you become a member of a local beekeeping association then it’s a good idea to share caretaking responsibilities during summer holidays).
Since you have to take care of your bees outdoors, that means you might be out in bad weather. On hot summer afternoons you still have to take care of them. And even on cold winter days you'll still have to venture out to the hive to make sure they have enough food to eat.
Bees aren't like pets. You can't pet them or train them to do tricks like a cat or dog. They also might not be welcomed by your neighbors.
You won't always get honey from your hive, especially in your first year and while you're new to the hobby. Just like when you plant a seed, there's no guarantee it will grow into a crop that you can harvest at the end of the season. Every year is different. So if you're keeping bees, you should enjoy the act of taking care of them and watching them. If you only want them for their end product, you may find yourself disappointed at times.
Why do Bees Need Us?
Bees are under threat from a number of different sources.
Global warming means that flowers around the world are blooming earlier than usual. So the flowers bees rely on for food may have already bloomed, and we’re not sure if bees will match their activity to these climate changes.
Pesticide use on farms has wiped out most native species of bees. Especially in the United States, where many pesticides banned for their proven harm to bees in other countries are still available.
Habitat loss from development or growing crops that aren't friendly to pollinators have left bees with fewer places to live.
Parasites like Varroa mites have also become a problem for their devastating effects on bee colonies.
What About Bee Stings?
You may be afraid of bee stings, but with proper handling and experience, getting stung is actually quite rare. Plus you can wear a bee veil and other protective equipment to avoid getting stung on sensitive areas of your body, or at all.
As long as you or a family member isn't allergic to bee stings, there's no reason not to try keeping bees for yourself.
Even if you do get stung, you're likely to develop an immunity to the poison over time so it will have less and less of an effect.