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The BaSis of Beekeeping

The natural world is best understood not by numbers or words, but by a series of intricate and interlocking cycles.


Modern agriculture has, in part, been able to break the cyclical processes of nature. Disease has been subdued by genetics and chemicals, livestock farmers are less farmers and more nutritionists and geneticists, and complete crop failures are largely unheard of. Beekeeping as an occupation is different. Apicultural science is in its infancy. The invention of the beehive as we know it today occurred well after America declared its independence from Great Britain. Brother Adam, a German monk that developed much of the basis of honeybee breeding in his Devon, England apiaries, had correspondence with beekeepers still keeping bees today and died only three years before I was born. Commercial honeybees, while refined compared to wild colonies, are still feral insects full of the same genetic traits found in unmanaged colonies. Significant advances have been made in farming bees, but the fact remains that modern beekeepers are left to whims of nature.

The pollen and nectar flows, swarming season, as well as colony strength are all governed by nature's cycles. However, the most universal and overriding of these cycles are the solstices. These are two great opposing forces that drive honeybee colony buildup and decline. The winter solstice, occuring in the cold days of December, is the shortest photoperiod of the year. The gradual lengthening of daylight after the winter solstice causes the queen to begin laying eggs after the fall break. As the cold weather ebbs, the colony builds in numbers so that it can take advantage of the first blooms of the year. The summer solstice in the heat of June marks the beginning of colony decline. As the bees drift into fall and winter, the bee population drops to under half of the peak summer population, forming an overwintering unit designed to prolong the queen just long enough to see another spring. Beekeepers that move their colonies (1.5 million in all) to pollinate California almond groves know to wait for the winter solstice to trigger colony buildup. Beekeepers in the northern United States and Canadian prairies know that colony strength declines after the summer solstice, causing a pest-host imbalance that if not controlled will destroy the colony. Bloom cycles, dictated largely by the sun's warmth, rely on the ebb and flow of the sun's strength. The honeybee truly lives with the sun as her timepiece.

I (Logan) have been keeping bees since I was 15. I made beekeeping a business in the summer of 2020. Working with the natural cycles in mind, I produce Illinois honey and nucleus colonies using organic principles. Beekeeping has been one of the most amazing and educating experiences I have had the opportunity to take part in. Thanks for your support by buying local honey and bees-I couldn't keep bees without your help!

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