To celebrate, read on to learn more about the Axe and Root Homestead and their tips for supporting happy, healthy bees.
My name is Angela and I am a self-taught homesteader in Central New Jersey. Our farm is located on a small historic six-acre plot where we keep two Clydesdale horses, ten beehives, a lot of ducks and geese, sheep for wool along with their guardian dog, and a farm stand. We grow the majority of our own produce and preserve for year-round consumption. We donate a third of all harvests to the local food pantry and also teach online classes on self-sufficient living (beekeeping, gardening, soap-making, tree tapping for syrup, etc.).
Homesteading was not always my intended path. I was very career oriented and had worked for a decade to build my own successful graphic and website design business. I was New York City-bound from the Midwest on a mission to become a big designer. Then I had my first child and my entire identity shifted. I hated sitting behind a computer screen all day meeting client demands and wanted to be outdoors—feeling the sunshine on my back and the dirt between my fingers. I suffered from postpartum depression and I decided a change needed to be made. I left my work to start a new chapter; I created a lifestyle that was more in line with nature, more conducive to motherhood, and more healthy for our family physically and mentally. I traded in my paycheck for food grown right in my own backyard.
It was during this transitional phase from being a designer to a homesteader that I found my love for honeybees. I was attending a women’s business networking function at a nature center and we took a guided hike through a preserve. The guide stopped the tour and carefully plucked a honeybee from a wildflower. He explained that the honeybee was not threatening unless it needed to be—that they are actually very gentle creatures and so important to our ecosystem. I was fascinated and decided I wanted to help to preserve these pivotal insects—I was going to be a beekeeper. I enrolled in a beginner’s beekeeping class, started reading books and researched online videos and articles. I sought advice from the apiary where I was purchasing my first hive, ordered equipment and drove my car to load 30,000 bees who would travel with me to my farm. That was five years ago.
Since then I have experienced the highs that come with harvesting your first bottle of honey and the lows of seeing hives completely perish as a result of winter starvation. But I haven’t given up and I’ve learned from every experience. Over these past few years I expanded my apiary to ten hives of varying species by splitting hives, catching swarms and re-queening weak colonies.
While honeybees are tiny their affect on the plant is anything but. These incredible insects are responsible for pollinating a large percentage of the world’s crops. Without their help, approximately one-third of the world’s food production would be lost. In addition, their honey, propolis and wax are used by humans for an array of medicinal, beauty and nutritional purposes. As a beekeeper and a farmer, I have witnessed the difference in the amount of produce yielded from seasons where honeybees have been both present and absent. I rely on them to provide my family and community with a reliable source of homegrown food and honey.
There are lots of ways we as humans can contribute to the health of the honeybee population without donning a bee-suit and learning to crack open a hive. Here are a few things you can do to keep these crucial pollinators healthy and happy:
1. Ditch the Toxins
Avoid the use of chemical sprays and pesticides in your yard and gardens. Honeybees are extremely susceptible to poisoning from weed killers, pest control sprays and other garden toxins. The market is flooded with natural, effective and honeybee safe choices for every need.
2. Plant for the Bees
We have a lot in common with honeybees when it comes to flowers. Many perennial garden plants we love for their beauty are great for providing pollen and nectar to pollinators. Here are a few to consider adding to your garden space: coneflower, borage, bee balm, yarrow, lavender, butterfly bushes, speedwell, poppies, catmint, sage, hollyhocks, calendula, sweet alyssum, sunflowers, zinnias, asters and more.
3. Buy Local Honey
By supporting local beekeepers your dollars stay within your local beekeeping community. Beekeepers use the funds from selling honey to purchase more hive equipment, start more colonies and keep more bees.
4. Call a Beekeeper
Many people panic if they spot a swarm or beehive in their yard. They immediately reach for insect sprays or call an exterminator. Neither is necessary—you can call a local beekeeper who will gladly come to your home and remove the bees. They have the knowledge and the skills to remove the colony and safely relocate it to a hive (often in their own apiary).
5. Don’t Swat!
If you see a honeybee on your clothing or flying around your space, don’t swat and don’t panic. Swatting will only make the honeybee feel threatened and often results in stinging which means loss of life for the honeybee. If you wait patiently or gently remove the unwanted visitor, the bee often loses interest quickly and moves along on its own.
Until I reached my mid-twenties I was the girl who jumped up from the picnic table any time a single bee flew past. But when I changed my perspective and gained a little courage with my bee-suit, I learned quickly that these are absolutely amazing, intelligent and essential contributors to our own way of life. Honeybees do so much for us and our planet—we can all do a little something to contribute to the health and wellness of the honeybee in return.