Intro to Honey Bees – give me some o’ that sweet stuff
I hope you have stocked up on plenty of sugar in your pantry. Other than natural sugars from fruits or milk, you don’t have a lot of choices for refining your own sugar after the SHTF.
Sugar cane: requires a warm climate and plenty of rain. Sugar cane is a pretty labor intensive process (there’s a reason that the sugar plantations used to be worked by slave labor).
Sugar Beets: at least these grow in temperate and even colder climates. But you have to grow a lot of sugar beets to get a little sugar (16-20 pounds of beets to yield one cup of sugar or roughly 340 grams).
Maple Syrup: on those days when it warms up above freezing (while it is below freezing at night) is when the sap flows. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup and lots of fuel to heat the sap and evaporate off the water….
According to the American Heart Association, adult males should not consume more than 37.5 grams of sugar a day or about 150 calories (25 grams for adult females). In case you were wondering that is equivalent to the sugar in one can of soda. Ok, so 37.5 grams per day comes out to about 30 pounds of sugar for a year (or 40 cups if you want to go ahead and grow those sugar beets – you only need 800 pounds of sugar beets to get the sugar for one adult... )
If you get a chance, you can take advantage of the research and planning done by the Mormons about stocking up a year’s worth of food, it is a good reference. The LDS recommendation is 60 pounds of sugar for an adult which is twice the AHA’s recommendation (to be fair, the AHA is not planning for TEOWAWKI).
Lots of recipes list sugar as an ingredient and I really couldn’t find anything in the available literature on whether the AHA’s recommended intake included sugar as an ingredient in prepared food or baked goods. It appears that they are just talking about sugar you would add on top of your cereal, in your coffee, etc. Let’s just use the LDS recommended 60 pounds for planning so in case you use up a lot of sugar in your recipes, you still have sugar on the table.
Ok, so it looks like you can get about 30-60 pounds of honey from a mature bee hive so if you have a family of four, if you have four bee hives you should be able to produce almost all the sugar you need. Of course hive production depends on a lot of factors like weather and health of the hive etc but this looks to be one of the best ways to have a source of sugar after the SHTF.
Notice I quoted production from a “mature” bee hive: you may not get any honey for the first two years while you establish your bee colony in each hive. The bees need the honey comb to feed and reproduce so if you harvest it all, uh… that’s the end of that.
In advance of an emergency – you have established your bee hives (“prepped”) and can harvest honey when you can no longer go to the store… yep, this looks like an ideal project for a prepper!
There is another reason that you should consider keeping Honey Bees: pollination of the rest of your garden. Bees play an important part in transferring pollen between plants so that flowers become fruits and you have something to harvest. Place your hives strategically on your property to insure that your plants get pollinated. The closer in proximity your bees are to your flowering plants, the more trips they can do each day, the faster the hive will thrive.
Types of Hives: essentially there are three types of hives. Top Bar, Warre and Langstroth. Other designs are available for urban settings but these are the basic designs that are commonly used in backyards and in the country.
Top Bar: consists of a stand, a trapezoidal box and a rotating cover. Bars go across the top of the trapezoidal box and the bees start the honey comb from the top and build downward. Moveable end plates allow you to add more bars so the bees can start more combs. To harvest you just open up the lid and pull up on one of the top bars and knock the comb off. Advantages: no heavy lifting, simplicity, ease of access. Disadvantages: requires the most maintenance and monitoring.
Warre: invented by a French monk in the 1800s, a simplified design, is also a top bar hive but with multiple boxes (three or more) plus the quilt box on top (absorbs moisture in the hive) and the roof cover. You harvest the top box and add an empty box to the bottom. Advantages: self-regulating, low maintenance, not as heavy as the Langstroth. Disadvantages: boxes can still weight 20 pounds.
Langstroth: the traditional design most commonly used by bee keepers. Each cell is framed (versus top bar only) and the honey comb is built within the sides of the frame. Again, you harvest boxes from the top and the brood boxes (usually deeper) are located at the bottom. Advantages: common usage means parts are readily available throughout the market. Highest production of honey. Disadvantages: boxes are heavy, inspection of the hive requires opening up the hive.
I also saw an interesting hive design on HoneyFlow.com of a self tapping hive. Saves on a mess at harvest but obviously you have to buy the device.
The cost of hives varies greatly – you can get them assembled or un-assembled or just get the plans and DIY. With accessories you should probably be prepared to spend $300-500 to get started.
In the next article, we will talk about getting started with a bee package and some considerations about “keeping” the bees and getting the hive established.
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