ELKO — For one local beekeeper, there are often a number of benefits to having bees around, from sweet honey to better pollination in the garden.
John Harmening of Spring Creek has been keeping bees for about eight years. He currently doesn’t have any bee hives, though, ever since a winter storm last year.
Honey produced by bees has versatile aspects as both a sweetener and antibiotic.
“Enzymes don’t allow bacteria to grow in honey, so it doesn’t go bad,” Harmening said.
He said honey has historically been used for medicinal purposes by a number of cultures.
Some people with allergies use locally produced honey in their food because it helps build up resistance to local pollens.
“Around here is a good place to have (bees) because there are no bee diseases,” he said.
Honeybees were brought to North America by early European settlers, according to the Back Yard Beekeepers Association, which is based in Connecticut.
The first beekeepers can be traced back to the Stone Age.
Gardeners can benefit from having honeybees around since they help pollinate vegetables such as squash.
“For gardening, they’re really a plus,” Harmening said, adding that a number of people in the Elko and Spring Creek areas keep bees.
He said he first became interested in beekeeping after hearing about his friend in Los Gatos, Calif., keeping bees.
However, Harmening said he’s “always been interested in bees.”
Although he never sold the honey he produced, he said he gave jars to friends, and people who suffer from allergies.
Harmening said although he usually has two or three hives, one hive is usually more than enough for people interested in keeping bees, since it can produce 30 pints of honey.
The hardest part of beekeeping is extracting the honey, he said.
Harmening said when ordering bees, “I request mild-mannered ones.”
He said he usually works without protective gear, but now he’s especially careful handling bees ever since a sting sent him to the hospital.
“I keep an EpiPen and Benadryl close,” he said.
Although getting stung by bees is a risk, Harmening said honey bees aren’t as aggressive as other species of bee, such as the African honey bee.
He said if a beekeeper agitates a honey bee, it will likely only follow him or her for 100 feet or so. However, after agitated, African honey bees have been known to follow people for about a mile.
Harmening said one way to avoid getting stung is to be calm and cautious. Working with the same hive of bees over a period of time is also helpful, he said.
“Bees get to know their beekeepers pretty well,” he said.
Despite some of the challenges of keeping bees, Harmening said he agrees with Albert Einstein, who reportedly said, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left.”
He said bee populations are a concern internationally since there aren’t enough in some areas to produce honey and pollinate flowers.
Harmening said honey bees are often transported along Interstate 80 from the East Coast to California, especially to locations such as almond groves, which require a lot of pollination.
Bees are usually kept on palates and the truck has a net over it to keep them from flying away, he said.
Bee communities are unique, Harmening said, and bees play quite specific roles within their societies.
The average lifespan of a worker bee is between six and eight weeks, while the queen of the colony usually lives about two years.
Most honey bees stay within a two-mile circle of their hive, Harmening said.