Honeybee FAQ

Q.What is a Honeybee Sanctuary, and how does that differ from an apiary or bee farm? (Bees for profit vs. bees not-for-profit)

A. A honeybee sanctuary is an apiary where the needs and well-being of the honeybees are number one on the priority list. It should be a safe place, quiet and protected, with ample forage for the bees grown with organic/biodynamic methods and free of GMO crops and pesticides in the vicinity. Only the true surplus honey is taken from the hives.

Q. Does the Sanctuary do work with native bees?

A. A large variety of native bees and wasps also make their home at the Sanctuary and profit from the great diversity of flowers and readily share nectar and pollen. Amongst the catnip, caryopteris, sunflowers, and annise hyssop, for example, you can see a real symphony of different bees; in the Korean mint we only see native bees and no honeybees at all. We care for all!

Q. Why is your sanctuary called Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary?

A. The Spikenard plant (nardostachys jatamansi) originates in the Himalayan Mountains and belongs to the Valerian family. Also known as 'nard', it is a source of rich essential oils with an equally rich history. Horace once promised Virgil a whole barrel of his best wine in exchange for a tiny phial of nard, which was a common ingredient in ancient Japanese incense recipes. It stood for centuries as an evocation of the perfume of the lost Garden of Eden, and was the costly ointment with which Mary Magdalena anointed Jesus. Nard oil has strong, warm, musky notes, similar to the aroma of healthy humus. For us, this oil inspires deeds that harmonize the relationship of heaven and earth. A blessing, if this can be achieved for the honeybees!

Q. How does the honeybee sanctuary get its bees?

A. The sanctuary relies on expanding its colonies through swarming–catching most of the swarms – and sometimes splitting the remaining colony in two, each keeping a number of naturally raised queen cells. The ones we fail to catch find good homes in the woods around us. Neighbors report to us that they are seeing honeybees in trees again. This is our contribution to the feral population.

Q. What types of beehives does the sanctuary use?

A. Langstroth, Top Bar, Warre, horizontal hexagonal and vertical hexagonal Venus Hive. We will be developing the round hive further in the winter months.

Q. Does the sanctuary sell honey, beeswax, pollen, royal jelly or propolis?

A. We sell a limited amount of honey locally. We sell some of our beeswax for medicinal purposes. The pollen we leave for the bees, but some propolis we use for our own salves. But we will never ever take or sell Royal Jelly, because this would mean killing queens.

Q. Do you use smokers?

A.  Yes, it is a door bell for us. We like to let them know that we are entering their space.  Our smoker fuel is fragrant with lots of dried medicinal plant material growing in our gardens.  It is like lightly smudging the bees and they don't feel threatened by it. 

Q. What kind of bees does the sanctuary have?

A. Mostly Italian – Carnolian, – Russian mixtures.

Q. Do you breed queens?

A. No. The conventional breeding of queens out of worker bee larvae is one of the major reasons the immune system of the honeybee is compromised, letting them be more susceptible to viruses, bacteria and fungi. At this time the life expectancy of queens is less than half of what it used to be 20-30 years ago.

Q. What can you tell me about Africanized Honeybees?

A. The presence of Africanized Honeybees is a blessing in disguise.  They are strong survivors and the interbreeding that is happening with honeybees in the Southern United States is a boon to the genetic diversity and resilience of the honeybee in this continent.  We know of beekeepers who are keeping Africanized bees and it appears that with gentle, persistent care they are becoming a bit tamer and less aggressive.