Why has mankind been so interested in beekeeping over the centuries? I’m sure that the first motivator was honey. After all, for many years and long before cane sugar, honey was the primary sweetener in use. I’m also sure that honey remains the principal draw for many backyard beekeepers. But the sweet reward is by no means the only reason folks are attracted to ­beekeeping. Since the 18th century, agriculture has recognized the value of pollination by bees. Without the bees’ help, many commercial crops would suffer serious consequences. More on that later. Even backyard beekeepers witness dramatic improvements in their garden: more and larger fruits, flowers, and vegetables. A hive or two in the garden makes a big difference in your success as a gardener.

But can't bees sting? I hear you ask. They do but when they sting they die. Therefore its not a good idea to place them near playground equipment where a young child may get traumatised if the bees swarm.

The rewards of beekeeping extend beyond honey and pollination. Bees produce other products that can be harvested and put to good use, including beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly. Even the pollen they bring back to the hive can be harvested (it’s rich in protein and makes a healthy food supplement in our own diets).

The prospect of harvesting honey is certainly a strong attraction for new beekeepers. There’s something magical about bottling your own honey. And I can assure you that no other honey tastes as good as the honey made by your own bees. Delicious!

How much honey can you expect? The answer to that question varies depending on the weather, rainfall, and location and strength of your colony. But producing 60 to 80 pounds or more of surplus honey isn’t unusual for a single strong colony.

Any gardener recognizes the value of pollinating insects. Various insects perform an essential service in the production of seed and fruit. The survival of plants depends on pollination. You may not have thought much about the role honey bees play in our everyday food supply. It is estimated that in North America around 30 percent of the food we consume is produced from bee-pollinated plants. Bees also pollinate crops, such as clover and alfalfa that cattle feed on, making bees important to our production and consumption of meat and dairy. The value of pollination by bees is estimated at around $16 billion in the United States alone.

These are more than interesting facts; these are realities with devastating consequences if bees were to disappear. And sadly, the health of honey bees has been compromised in recent years (see the later section “Being part of the bigger ­picture: Save the bees!”). Indeed a spring without bees could endanger our food supply and impact our economy. It’s a story that has become headline news in the media.

I’ve witnessed the miracle in my own garden: more and larger flowers, fruits, and vegetables — all the result of more efficient pollination by bees. After seeing my results, a friend who tends an imposing vegetable garden begged me to place a couple of hives on her property. I did, and she too is thrilled. She rewards me with a never-ending bounty of fruits and vegetables. And I pay my land-rent by providing her with 20 pounds of honey every year. Not a bad barter all around.