What comes to mind when we hear beekeeping? A rural farm and acres of open space, a heavy beekeeping outfit, and several clusters of honeycombs? We get you, that’s our first impression, too.
In a previous article, I mentioned how harvesting honey was ethical, and just how helpful it was to the honeybees and environment. This began a train of thought. What DO you need for a successful bee farm, no matter how small?
Wait, how much space do I need?
Hong Kong isn’t exactly known for a lavish amount of space. But beekeeping doesn’t require an entire expanse of farm land, or even a whole backyard. Rooftop beekeeping is a pastime, and those roof-reared bees have been shown to thrive as well! So if you have access to your rooftop (and permission from your neighbors), consider starting there.
Why would I even want to start beekeeping?
Beekeeping is a hobby that encourages floral life by community pollination. This helps the natural environment, and flower pollination results in plant reproduction. For those who wish to grow a small garden, or even just tend to a cluster of potted plants, bees will gladly help you out (provided your flowers have a ready supply of nectar)! This is also beneficial to people who simply want to collect honey, or make a small profit from selling excess honey.
- Proximity to flowers and water
Honeybee workers are willing to fly up to 6 km to collect pollen or water. However, you’d be doing them a big favor if you were to place them on a rooftop with flowers and other plants nearby, preferably a park or a florist’s. Bees expend their energy on flight, and they would thank you for cutting them a little slack. An alternative idea would be growing some flowers near your bees as well! These fuzzy friends need a year-long supply of pollen, so beginning beekeepers are encouraged to make sure they have a nearby supply of flowers and water.
- Hive frame
A natural beehive is made out of wax, with a worker bee’s wax-producing glands on their belly. It can take from a week to 2 months to finish constructions and can only hold a small amount. A bee frame comes quicker than that (with a guarantee of 3-6 business days), and can store from 40 pounds to 70 pounds, depending on the size of the honey storage unit. A hive frame is the skeleton to the successful body of a beekeeper, storing honey and acting as a home for bees to live in! Consider a smaller frame for your bees! Don’t worry about the honeycomb structure that hives usually have- your bees will create it by themselves!
- Protective Gear
We salute this beekeeper in HK who extracts honey without using a beekeeping suit, but for safety’s sake, we would like to urge beginners to at least use a beekeeping suit for their first few hives. Although bees are individuals that mind their own business, they get righteously annoyed when humans extract some of their honey. For your safety, consider a professional-grade beekeeping suit. There are several to choose from, so pull up a couple of lists, and ponder over what to get!
- Honey Extractor (and other small accessories)
When your bees have a full honeycomb, this is the beekeeper’s cue to harvest the excess honey that they will not eat. Thanks to modern-age technology, scraping the honey from the source is much easier, in a manner that does not damage the underlying honeycomb structure. A hand-powered or electric honey extractor will do the brunt of the work for you.
Simply load the frame into the extractor, and it will centrifuge the honeycomb, whipping all the honey out. If this sounds too complicated, simply imagine a laundry dryer. It whips your wet clothes around so fast that a force acts upon the spinning clothes, but not the excess water in the clothes. The acceleration pushes the dense water particles outwards, which fall into the drum below. The same applies to this honey extractor- the acceleration will push the dense honey outwards, which will fall to the bottom of the drum, where you can collect and further refine it!
And last, but not least, you probably need bees if you want to start beekeeping. A queen bee and a few workers can be shipped from overseas, but the point of having your own rooftop beehive is to decrease your carbon footprint, anyway, especially when a local option is available. Wing Wo Bee Farm is willing to share some queens and their workers, and is happy to give some tips to any would-be beekeepers!
Once you’ve got the basics of beekeeping out of the way, it will be a new experience to start your own hive. To do so in the city will be a feat for any aspiring hobbyist, and well, it certainly would make for several fun stories over a cup of tea and some honeyed toast!