Believe me, I haven’t been quiet because I don’t have anything to write, I’ve been quiet because I have so much to write! Taking lots of notes, snapping lots of photos, and working hard to get it all the work that needs to be done on the homestead, done – and then finding the time to share it here – has kept me busy this Spring, mash’Allaah.
I’ve been wanting to keep bees for years, for many reasons, both practical and pie-in-the-sky. The two most obvious on the practical side are pollination and honey.
A third of the world’s food production depends on bees, and yet most people are willing to stand and watch as they fight for their survival in an environment that is getting more and more hostile to these little black and yellow dynamos. Monoculture, the spread of high density urban areas, pollution, and climate change are just some of the factors affecting the ability of these highly adaptable little creatures to co-exist with us here on planet Earth. Keeping bees is a small way to contribute to their continued survival while at the same time learning about how they live and work while living alongside of them. In addition, our ever-expanding gardens here at Wide Earth will, insh’Allaah, benefit from our new little neighbors, as they pollinate flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees (watch later this week for an update on all of THOSE!).
The second most obvious reason to keep bees is to harvest honey, beeswax, and other bee – goodies that come along with raising bees in a traditional Langstroth hive setup. I chose to begin with these due to ease of use, but am hoping to move to a more natural top bar or similar set up in the future.
Honey can quite literally be (“bee”???) a lifesaver, fighting bacteria, building immunity, and helping wounds to heal, among other things. I often give the children their herbal medicines in honey, making even the ickiest tasting herbs more palatable and, I think, easier on their tummies. When I was sick with the typhoid in Yemen, my herbalist had me take all of my herbs (and roots and resins) in honey, telling me that the honey itself was as much medicine as all the other stuff combined. On top of that, it just tastes good. I have used it extensively in baking ever since I got a tattered copy of Laurel’s Kitchen when I was a single mom in college. And if you’re in the market for honey, be very, very careful what you buy, as much of what is available in stores is cut, not 100% honey.
And honey is only one of the awesome products you can harvest from your bees! Beeswax alone makes me happy, whether I am making lipbalms, or soaps, or candles.
The not so tangibles:
First of all, there is a chapter in the Qur’aan named after the bee, and in it Allaah says,
“And your Lord inspired to the bee, “Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct.”
Second, I love their wildness and how it coexists with such amazing order and coordination and cooperation. They are amazing to watch, and learn from.
Third, I have found that I feel calm when working with them. I was afraid I might be nervous, or do something silly, but the whole process was very calming, keeping to the task at hand while spending time with them.
Fourth, the bees can contribute to our Permaculture based homestead in so very many ways. They were a logical next step for us to take, one that can help us on our way to the level of sustainability we are striving for, insh’Allaah.
These are only some of the reasons we’ve chosen to keep bees. The bees, our herb garden, our worm composting system, and our forest plantings are the new pieces we are planning on adding to our homestead puzzle this year.
We decided to paint the hives pretty colors because…well, we wanted the hives to be painted pretty colors. I bought two gallons of outdoor paint in Sunflower and Calendula (I mean, it was for bees, right??) and let the children have at it.
The day I picked up the bees from the Hiveman, the day was a little cool, rainy, and blustery. I was afraid I would have to let them sit for another day, hoping the weather would improve. Thankfully, the sun came out, the winds died down, and we headed out to take care of our newest additions.
Being the nerd that I am, I actually brought “Beekeeping for Dummies” out to the hives with me (keep an eye out for my reviews of this and other beekeeping books I’ve been practically memorizing lately). I had chosen the spot carefully, trying to figure in as many of the advices I’d read in that and other books as possible, while keeping my neighbors in mind as well. This was important to me, the neighbor has a special position in Islaam. The beeyard is at the end of the goat pens, bordering on pasture, with shade and a couple of birdfeeders for a water source. I am also planting buckwheat and clover in front of the beeyard area. I know the bees will travel far and wide in their travels, but I like the idea of them having a little place to snack right outside their homes.
I felt like a queen myself, with all of my attendants in tow. Nusaybah, my faithful sidekick in all things animal/insect related, Hudhaifah, handyman extraordinaire, Mu’aadh, with his new cowboy hat on, and Maryam and Asmaa in party dresses and bug hats. I’m sure we made quite the picture.
Everything went smoothly, with one small exception. After we had hung the second queen cage in the hive, I got to worrying about the first one. Hudhaifah offered to go and peek at it to make sure it was okay, and it had actually fallen into the hive. I put my hand in and got it out, and we reattached it. The bees didn’t seem to mind and none of us got stung, so it worked out in the end.
I checked the bees the next morning and one hive was super busy, the other medium-ly so. We filled up their feeders and watched them for awhile before returning to the house. The goats are interested in the hives, of course. Not much happens that doesn’t interest a goat, to be honest. So far, they are leaving them alone, and I am hoping they will continue to do so. After a week I get to open the hives out and check on the queen and her little community. Until then, I’m just going to hang around, and enjoy the show.