I just ordered my first package of bees.
Yeah, I know, that's confusing as hell. How - or why - would you order a "package" of bees? Bees come in, like, a package? Don't bees sting, aren't they dangerous, why would you want them?
Yeah, well, I'm not allergic to bees. The stings are painful and piss me off, but that's all. Besides, I have access to an epi pen if I need it.
First and foremost, there's the whole honey thing. I love honey. I cook and bake with it. I use honey instead of sugar, honey instead of corn syrup in my pecan pies... honey in everything. I use about 60 lbs of honey a year... that's a whole 5-gallon bucket. Considering that you use less than half of the sugar measurement when you use honey in any recipe, that's a LOT of honey.
Second, there's the whole beeswax thing. I make my own soap and am starting to make my own lotions, and the honey and the beeswax are important parts of that. Candles? You bet. Beeswax is smokeless and pure, and most people with candle allergies are actually allergic to the petroleum in 'regular' candles. I'm not - no allergies here - but if I am going to make candles (and I am) why not use the beeswax?
Not to mention the royal jelly and the propolis ('bee glue') that are also good for you; heals wounds, kills bacteria, etc.
A bee "package" is a producing mating queen and 4000 or so worker bees. By the end of the summer, there will be 20,000 bees - workers and drones, along with the queen - in a single hive, from a single package.
But there are a lot of beekeepers out there nowadays who just don't seem to understand symbiosis. They brag about having hives that they ship all over the country to pollinate fruits and vegetables, and even alfalfa for cattle feed. They lament about the multiple drugs and pesticides they have to use on their bees every season, just to 'keep them healthy'. They don't understand the dichotomy there. If you are shipping your bees all over God's Little Acre, and mixing them with other bees (who may or may not be infested with mites or infected with all sorts of diseases), you are literally putting your bees in a swamp of potential disasters... and then wondering what happened to your carefully-bred Carnolian or Italian darlings, who can't even clean themselves or take care of themselves without your human intervention. More - the more you 'treat' your bees with insecticides and pesticides and all sorts of tainted products, the weaker and more dependent your bees become - and the more likely your honey and even your wax will be tainted with the same things. Anything you therefore eat or inhale from your hive is likely to poison you, too...
So I found this guy in Nebraska who breeds a special type of bee. He doesn't ship them to hell and back, he raises and breeds them in Nebraska. They are specially suited for the cold winters here, and they are self-sufficient. He doesn't use miticides, pesticides, or any treatments - at all. He doesn't rob the hives; he takes less than half of what they produce, and leaves the rest, for them to overwinter on their own stores. This treatment produces - so he says - gentler, smarter, and more self-sufficient bees. Unlike the hybrid bees of other species, they clean each other, themselves, and their hive - constantly. They are tough and yet - not aggressive to humans. They are productive and make honey out of any and everything - because they aren't being shipped to this alfalfa field or that almond farm, particular about the types of pollen and nectar that they gather, and the honey that they produce. These seem to be the bees I've been looking for, to complete the plan.
It's about symbiosis. I have cows that eat grass (any type of grass) and poop fertilizer. I have chickens who eat scraps and poop fertilizer. In the process they feed us meat, milk, and eggs, all as casual byproducts. I have fruit trees and vegetables, fertilized with cow and chicken poop, soon to be pollinated by the bees that will produce the honey. Everything works together, everything provides something for the farm, and incidentally will feed us too.
Next week we'll pick up Ashley, our second hand-raised and home-bred steer, from the butcher. 480 pounds of burger, steaks, ribs, and roasts for a total of $250. That will last us all year long. The meat provides us with food, and the strength to go out and plow and plant, feed up and water, and build and harvest. Symbiosis. Everything working together, everything dependent on each other, everything working in harmony, breeding and producing endlessly and repetitively. A closed farm, a closed herd, a closed apiary, a closed orchard, a closed garden; all enclosed and working together without shipping anyone out - or in - to contaminate the perfection of it all.
The 10-year self-sufficiency plan is right on schedule, even a little ahead of schedule. But everything is working, and working out.