Bees are an absolutely amazing and relevant part of virtually every homestead, on or off the grid. While the thought of being surrounded by bees may be intimidating at first, the benefits are such that they far outweigh any detriment save on those occasions when the homesteader may be allergic to bees … in which case this approach is probably best left to the care of the neighbors.
However, even in cases where one homesteader may in fact be allergic to the bees, it may be possible to work out a deal with some of the neighbors, perhaps exchanging some of the costs in return for a portion of the benefits.
Raw Honey as Medicine
There are those who openly mock my approach when it comes to doctors, as I believe them to be scarcely any more adept than the average car mechanic. They frequently make every effort to cure the symptoms without always necessarily searching for the root cause, and in addition, are going to bill you excessively large amounts regardless of whether or not they can fix the problem … or even if the process of trying to cure the symptom, kills you in the process … your heirs will still be saddled with the bills for their failed efforts.
I believe doctors do serve a purpose and they are in fact, very invaluable at treating bullet holes, deep stab wounds and broken bones … but that is about the extent of my faith and experience with doctors.
This is relevant here because one oft overlooked benefit of raw honey … that is to say honey that comes straight out of the hive and is not purified, processed or otherwise “treated” to alter it from its natural state, works as an amazing salve for wounds both large and small.
Whether it is a random branch that has been impaled through a foot, a major cut resulting from a fall or other injurious encounter, the placement of raw honey, wrapped up in clean cloth, pulled tight enough to close the wound and leave the honey as a coating will result in an amazing healing process for most people, including the absence of large amounts of unsightly scarring and a buildup of scar tissue resulting from stapling or sewing the wound shut.
Bees as a Defensive Measure
Hives of bees kept close to any structure on the homestead, especially if all of those structures are surrounded by thorn-bearing flowers and berry bushes, will assist in adding a secondary defensive measure to the different facilities on the homestead. An unwary intruder, seeking only to get rid of the bees he sees, can easily enrage the entire hive by taking a couple of good swipes at the bees buzzing him as he seeks to enter the homestead without the permission of the owner.
Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of a swarm from an enraged hive of bees will readily attest to how quickly such an event will encourage someone to leave.
Mead and Honey Beer
Besides being an amazing medicine in and of itself, the honey is also great for making a surprisingly refreshing and pleasant tasting beer. Heffeweissen or Honey Wheat beer is gaining an increasingly popular following in the US, but the Nordic people, including the vikings of old, have used honey to make a variant of beer for generations … and it really is surprisingly good and refreshing, even when made without wheat or other fermented grains.
There are also some recipes that I have discovered where it can be used in conjunction with berries for wine and/or brandy, though I have not yet had the opportunity to try any of these out personally as of the time of this writing.
Bees for Agriculture
One of the most common concerns regarding the increasing disappearance of bees in the wild, is the reduction of the bees necessary for much of the agricultural pollination that must take place for the local plant life, both domestic and wild. Despite the advertisement on the bottles of honey purchased in the stores, it really is highly unlikely, barring a completely isolated ecosystem, that the honey comes solely from clover, or wheat or any other singular source.
Bees will gather nectar from each and every plant growing within the range of their hive, no matter what kind of plant life or flower it must be. In terms of agricultural pursuits on the homestead, this will mean an increase in the production of fruits and vegetables for the homesteader. No food forest would be complete without at least one large hive of bees, though it is hard to imagine ever being able to have too many bees.
The Bees Wax that is extracted from the hive can be used for numerous different functions around the homestead. Bees wax is one of the preferred means of treating and waterproofing leather as the bees wax will preserve the natural color of the leather without staining, dying or other discoloration. Bees wax can also be used for candle making, ensuring a never ending supply of long-lasting candles that can be used during extended periods without power or even as a more romantic setting for those that are so inclined.
Bees wax also serves as a natural and healthy means to seal all of those mason jars during canning season, without having to go out and spend loads of money on less natural sealers.
Besides the medical benefits of honey for healing wounds, and even the benefits of honey-beer, there is a lot to be said for the more simple consumption of honey just for the sake of having honey. Anyone who has ever risen to the smell of hot cakes or biscuits or even cornbread cooking, only to anxiously and quickly get up and rush to the table to find still hot bread, coated with butter and honey, will know exactly what is being said here.
Sometimes, eating honey just for the sake of eating honey is reward enough for keeping the hives safe and sound and keeping the bees fat and happy … and they will work diligently to keep the beekeeper equally fat and happy … so to speak.