1. Where should you keep beehives? The ideal places for backyard beekeepers –also called hobby beekeepers, distinct from commercial beekeepers – include backyards, the roof of apartment buildings, and/or community gardens (provided everyone who uses the garden buys into this idea). *** Some important questions a beekeeper should ask himself or herself before starting out are: Do the bees have access to a wide variety of flowering plants in gardens and parks; do the bees have access to water (or can you provide it for them); are your hives getting exposure to early morning sun; are they out of the wind, or at least faced so that their entrances aren’t facing the wind; are you responsive to concerns of neighbors or other people living close by and should you consider building a fence around the hive area; is it legal to keep hives where you live?
2. Should we be frightened of bees? To say you shouldn’t be frightened of bees is to say you shouldn’t be afraid of snakes (assuming you aren’t a snake charmer). When you (we) hear a buzzing sound, your first reaction is to run away from it. The truth is, the bees that tend to sting us without much provocation are wasps and hornets, which by nature are more aggressive. In fact, they can sting their victims several times. *** Honeybees generally won’t sting you unless you scare them, step on them, get in the way of their foraging flight path or otherwise interrupt them during their work day. They are not vindictive. Remember that honeybees will die after they sting you. I would suggest that bees are smart enough to ignore us unless, as I said, you provoke them. A stinging honeybee is signing her own death warrant.
3. What can we do about the dangers that honeybees face? That question can be answered in many ways. If you are concerned that bees are losing many of the flowers they gather nectar from, then becoming a backyard beekeeper and planting those flowers in your gardens is one way to help nourish the bee population. Of course, that has relatively small impact. *** Another way is to decide what or who you feel is the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. If you think it’s the chemicals in pesticides that farmers spray their crops with, then you can lobby the federal government to ban those pesticides considered most dangerous, or you can contribute to organizations that are doing that lobbying. Keep in mind, however, that chemical manufacturers deny their products hurt the bees. They blame different factors, such as pests, mites, and other predators that they say are responsible for disrupting hives and decimating bee populations.
4. How can we avoid getting stung by a bee? As I have already noted, honeybees typically won’t sting you unless you interrupt them during their work day. If you choose to do that – by, for example, pulling out hive frames with the intent of scraping off the honey and taking it for yourself – then you will face “The Wrath of the Bees.” During this time you should always wear protective clothing from head to foot, with rubber bands around your wrists and ankles to keep the clothing tight against your skin. *** Otherwise, bees will fly up your legs and arms, even into your armpits, and try to get into any openings around your neck. Bees – it feels like hundreds of them – will furiously hurl themselves against your hat and clothing. After all, you are taking away the product of all their hard work. I know some beekeepers who have been stung 12 to 15 times during one honey harvest. (They say they are used to it and hardly feel the sting anymore. I have my doubts.)
5. Are African bees as mean as people say? And where did they come from? African bees originally did come from southern Africa, but were brought to Brazil in the 1950s to mate with European bees already there in an effort to make them hardier and able to produce more honey. Unfortunately, the African bees were a stronger, meaner breed and within several years had destroyed the existing European hives, in effect “Africanizing” the country. *** Known by now as “killer bees,” they arrived in the U.S. in 1990. The gentler European (including Italian) bees usually sting as a defense, to warn the perceived predator to stay away. Also, only a small portion of the hive will attack the intruder. African bees, however, seem to enjoy going on the attack. The whole hive, as many as 40,000 bees (or more), will chase intruders for up to a quarter of a mile and sting them multiple times before finally backing off. Should you try to harvest any honey from their hives – most beekeepers steer clear of these bees — be prepared for an even more ferocious attack than usual, during which repeated stings can deposit massive amounts of venom into your blood stream. *** And remember that an attack by killer bees can be triggered by something as simple as a noise made near their hive (loud shouting or a lawnmower, for example), the vibrations of a passing car, or a particular smell, like perfume. To escape an attack, experts suggest running away as fast as you can preferably in a straight line, protecting your face with your hands, and not swatting at the bees or waving your arms around since movement only riles them up even more. In general, it’s best to stay as far away from African bees as possible.