On Saturday night 96,000 Italian bees arrived at Unity Farm in 8 hives. What are Italian bees? Here is an overview of bee types . There are many subspecies of the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Each has different characteristics in temperament, honey production, winter hardiness, swarming behavior, and disease resistance. We chose Italians that had overwintered in Massachusetts for their lack of aggressiveness, consistent ability to produce honey, and their likelihood of reproducing sufficiently to sustain a stable population in our orchard and meadow.
Our Guinea fowl enjoy eating bees, so we created an elevated platform using oak pallets that ensures the hive entrances are higher than guinea mouth height.
To begin our bee journey, we placed 4 "nucs" or nucleus hives in the orchard and 4 nucs in the meadow near the stream. A nuc is a fully functional starter hive consisting of a laying queen and bees on frames of brood, honey and pollen. Soon these frames will be transferred to standard Langstroth hives which consist of combs hung in vertical sheets for easy honey harvesting and bee care.
At the moment, the bees are staying close the their hives, circling to get oriented to their new home. They're very gentle and will land on me as I approach the hive. I've not been stung and expect that we'll have a great long term symbiotic relationship. The apple trees are in full bloom and pollen/nectar is plentiful in the orchard. Similarly, wildflowers are abundant in the meadow, so all 8 hives are buzzing with food gathering activity.
During our first year as beekeepers, we'll be guided by Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D, a behavioral ecologist, a beekeeper, and the founder of Boston’s Best Bees .
In 2014, we'll evaluate our progress and think about adding bee care to our weekly farm tasks.
Some will debate if beekeeping is vegan. Since no bees are harmed and the quality of life of the bee is not changed in any way by beekeeping, I believe it is consistent with vegan ideals. The same cannot be said about the dairy industry or factory farmed chickens producing eggs. Honey is not secreted by bees, it's the product of nectar mixed with bee digestive enzymes .
I look forward to our first honey harvest and comparing the characteristics of orchard honey to meadow honey.