As the chill March winds blow across the frozen rows of the vacated garden, bees ought to be buzzing in the thoughts of all those who are concerned with the flourishing life of the earth. Bees are of the essence. They always have been and are especially so now.
One reason, outside of the sweet vision of honey on the table, is that most of our fruits and vegetables must be pollinated by bees. Many times our gardens may have failed to produce a good crop of food because of the lack of bees to carry the pollen from plant to plant.
To anyone permanently into gardening, keeping bees has to be the next step to complete garden happiness.
Until something over a hundred years ago bees were left to their wild ways, and if a "bee tree" was found in the woods it was only a happy accident. Even after man began to cultivate bees actively, little was known about them or what went on inside the hive. Since that time a great "literature of bees" has been built up. Today if you wish to get started with bees, you have every advantage of past knowledge and experience to help you succeed.
Outside of reading all you can about how to buy, care for, and appreciate your bees, a good move is to get acquainted with local bee people to find out what works best in your area of the country. Also, it is good to have someone you can call on for advice.
Your public library can furnish you with books galore. Further, you may obtain instructive pamphlets from universities as well as the federal government. Then, by keeping in close touch with your state's apiary board, and joining and participating in a beekeepers' organization, you are on your way.
In the process of setting up your colony you may expect to find someone who is an expert at building the hives and supers (extra boxes for bees to store honey in), thus saving longdistance shipping costs. Or, with the information and patterns obtained from your reading, and with local beekeepers to cue in you in, you can build these yourself, then order your young queen and a starter population from a Sears country catalog.
Many experienced apiarists say this is the best way to get your bees. You are assured of having a healthy queen, and more bees will be hatching right along in the hive. An order next fall will be delivered in time for the bees to get settled in their new home and start producing honey before another winter sets in.
Although we are likely to take it for granted that bees will appear with the season, it isn't necessarily so anymore, in view of the prevailing use of pesticides and weedicides. The facts is, the wild bees are hard put to survive. Even with your bees established, it's hard to keep them from ranging into the next garden or even one a couple of miles away where a spraying program may be under way.
One thing you can do, however, is to grow a succession of plants close by that are attractive to bees. Some of these include vetch, clover, alfalfa, buckwheat, all the legumes, herb plants including mints and catnip, the berry bushes, and, of course, fruit trees and flowers.
Then look around and you'll probably find many nectar-yielding trees, such as willow, basswood, maple, linden, black locust, tulip poplar, catalpa, and many others.
Another help is to interest your neighbors in the bees. They will alert you before they do any spraying, to allow you to close your hives for the day.
As to location, the hives should be near the house so you can maintain close supervision. Outside of this, you'll find with study that bees can be kept in almost any location -- perhaps surprisingly, even in a crowded city.
As long as man has worked with bees he has carried the hives from field to field by boat, wagon, and truck. This allows the bees to gather honey in areas too far afield for them to fly.
In this business the profits arrive in double measure.
The owner of the field or orchard pays well for the use of the bees in pollinating his blossoms, while at the same time the bees are in business making honey, not only for themselves but for their colony owner.
According to experienced beekeepers, the beginner should start with no more than two hives and learn the ropes firsthand before becoming more ambitious.
As with everything in the garden, bees will repay over and over for all the thought, time, labor, and money spent on them. this is why everyone ought to be thinking about bees -- not only the honey bee, but all kinds, from the big, furry, blustery bumblebee to the tiny "sweat" bee.
All the bees are good friends indeed in the garden.