For a little while now I've been thinking that it might be neat to try my hand at beekeeping. Literally, this is an idea I've been mulling over for several years. What's held me back is twofold. The first is, I think I might be slightly allergic to bee stings. Or maybe it's just wasps? I'm not usually a sissy when it comes to pain. I didn't even take any painkillers (beyond a few ibuprofen for swelling) after my nose surgery last summer. So when I say that bee/wasp stings are probably the second worst pain I've endured (after that kidney stone I had), that's saying something. I think I've actually only been stung by wasps, though, and never bees. Is there a difference in the stings? Could I be allergic to one and not the other?
The other concern of mine is the startup costs. It can be very expensive to buy all of the beekeeping equipment! And it's at a premium around here. I've kept my eye on the farm and garden section of Craigslist and I haven't yet seen beekeeping equipment going for less than $300.
The final downside, and this is something I learned recently, is that the colony needs to be killed at the end of every summer. They just don't live through our winters. So it's not just a one-time cost for bees the way it is for most beekeepers, and I can't go out and find a wild hive to replenish with. Not to mention, I'd feel bad for the poor bees!
On the other hand, local honey is outrageously expensive. I can get a partly full two-quart sized jar of honey for the low, low price of $35. On the other hand it's at least real honey, which that sold in grocery stores isn't. I don't know that I buy into the idea of local honey being a "cure" for allergies, and I'm not sure if it's healthier than actual sugar. But it can be produced locally (which sugar can't) and it's darn tasty. If I can make some myself, that would seriously cut down on the "honey" portion of our budget.
There are also plenty of resources. There's a man I work with who keeps bees and is very happy to instruct and help with any bee questions. Additionally, there's a beekeepers...club, I guess you could call it. They meet at the coffee shop right by my house sometimes. At the very least, I might try going to their next meeting if I can make it. I could get a better idea of what it costs them, what gear I'd actually need, and what beekeeping would actually involve.
The only person I've ever known well who kept bees is my brother in law, who had bees last summer. But he had them down in Soldotna so I never got to know what, exactly, was involved. Still, he'll be a great resource if I decide to go for this.
I guess the most important thing for me is the startup cost. If I can get beekeeping equipment for little to no cost, that would be worth it. If I have to spend a lot of money, however, that wouldn't be. (Spending $300 to save on $100 worth of honey is not exactly a frugal idea. Nor would it be smart in our current circumstances.)
The final benefit of having my own beehive, beyond just honey, would be what it can do for my garden. Just one colony of bees can improve the conditions and output of the plants for a 3-mile area around them. Isn't that incredible? I've already been looking into companion planting (I have a plan!), so why not use bees as another method to improve my garden's productivity?
I was so glad to read this morning that I'm not the only one who's somewhat baffled by everyone else complaining about what a warm, unusual winter it's been in the Lower 48. I realize that it's worrisome, especially for people in agriculture (most notably, maple syrup producers, who need very specific conditions in which to tap the trees, which they didn't get much of this year) but it's been the complete opposite of what we've had in Alaska. Record snowfalls, record cold in places, and just generally un-fun conditions. (It's currently -6 and breezy.) Most of us just don't know what spring will bring this year. Will it be unexpectedly early? How deep does the frost go? Because that's the most important thing when it comes to trying to time planting and gardening around here. Will we have an awful, miserable Breakup, or will the snow slowly melt away? We just don't know yet. But the Nenana Ice Classic is in full swing again as everyone waits for the surest sign of Breakup.
**Update: I just checked Craigslist again and there's a beehive (just the hive, no bees and no other gear) for...$450.