Self-Sufficiency: Raising Bees and Finding Wild Food

Learn about the self-sufficient lifestyle. How to raise bees, hunt rabbits and pheasants, and collect mussels for food.

| September/October 1976

  • 041-052-02
    Hunt for pheasants to provide meat.
  • bees
    Beekeeping is just one way for the self-sufficient homesteader to produce food.

  • 041-052-02
  • bees

Note: All content here excerpted with permission from Farming for Self-Sufficiency: Independence on a 5-Acre Farm by John and Sally Seymour. Copyright 1973. Read More 

John and Sally Seymour's record of 18 successful years on a shirttail-sized homestead in England is important now and should offer welcome encouragement to today's back-to-the-landers . . . both real and imaginary. I started serializing the book in my No. 25 issue and I'm sure that many readers will want a personal copy for their home libraries.—MOTHER.  

Every farmer will understand me when I say, that he ought to pay for nothing in money, which he can pay for in anything but money. -- William Cobbett

How to Keep Bees

The pre-industrial Revolution manner of keeping bees would not commend itself to the officers of the R.S.P.C.A., because the bees were 'put down', as the latter would term it, every autumn. The hive with precision-cut moveable frames had not been invented, and the only way in which the honey could be extracted was to burn a little sulphur underneath the hive and liquidate the bees. The picturesque straw skeps were treated in this manner, and in Africa and most parts of Asia today this is still the manner of keeping, and ceasing to keep, bees. In Central Africa one frequently sees hollowed - out logs hung in the trees: these are the equivalents of the medieval bee skeps in England. There are bee keepers in dear old England today who, whisper it not, do this very thing. They put old orange boxes or other crates and receptacles around the backs of their houses, where the neighbours can't see them, and put a few old bee frames with a bit of wax on them and the smell of bees inside them, and either hope that some bees will arrive from somewhere (and if bees have been kept in that garden for a long time you can be fairly sure some will) or else go out and capture a swarm and put them in the box. The busy little insects fill the box completely with honeycomb and honey, but all jammed in there higgledy-piggledy, and there is absolutely no way known to man of extracting that honey without killing those bees. But there, the economics of the thing, from Man's point of view, are perfectly sound. The bees, by the autumn, have done their work. They have made their honey. If the man is going to keep them alive all winter it either means that he has got to leave a large part of their honey with them for them to live on, or else feed them with sugar. In a country with a high proportion of woodland and forest, and therefore of wild bees, there will always be plenty of fresh swarms in the spring, and a swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay, and worth none the less because you didn't have to feed it and look after it all winter.

It was the discovery of the bee space that made this yearly butchery unnecessary though. The bee space is the exact space in which a bee will build its comb and yet leave a space for itself to crawl about in. Thus the frames of a modern beehive are exactly the right distance from each other so that the bees will build the combs out from them to the correct size of combs but yet leave a bee space between the combs. If the frames were a small fraction of an inch further apart the bees would start building 'wild comb' between the frames and thus fill the whole space in; if they were a fraction nearer the bees would not be able to build out from both frames, because there would not be room for them to work. Therefore, with this discovery of the bee space, it was possible to construct beehives with such precision that the bees build their combs as we want them to, on frames that we put there for them, frames that can be removed to extract the honey without disturbing the bees too much, and be put back again for the bees to start filling with honey again. The stock of bees can be kept from year to year, which is more humane, and also enables the bee keeper to start early in the season with strong stocks of bees in all of his hives. He doesn't have to wait for the Lord to send him 'a swarm of bees in May' because he's already got several good swarms of bees tucked up in his hives in January.

The feeding of a little sugar to the bees to keep them alive in the winter and to enable the beekeeper to rob them more thoroughly in the autumn has developed, among many modern beekeepers, into feeding them on sugar all the time exclusively. Bees will not bother to go and look for nectar if there is plenty of sugar available, and many beekeepers buy stores of cheap sugar generally condemned for human consumption, and feed it direct into their hives, and the bees just turn it directly into honey. Which is why so much honey today tastes something like honey, and yet not quite like honey. The honey that comes in from underdeveloped parts of the world like Mexico, however, generally really tastes like honey, because the beekeepers in such lands cannot afford to buy the sugar to feed the bees: it is when labour is dear and industrial sugar is cheap relative to labour that beekeepers shove in the sugar.

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