Accepting What Is
As the local beekeeping association Secretary I received lots of email and often it involved a request from non members wanting to get into beekeeping. They’d done their homework which, mostly, has consisted of surfing Facebook and Youtube. They’d also asked lots of people how to best get started in beekeeping. After polling the answers they’d start to see two particular suggestions rising to the top: 1) Join your local association and 2) get a mentor. From there they deduced that they can most likely accomplish both by sending an email to the local association asking for a mentor to help them get started.
I had a very nice, polite email I send back moving them in the right direction to accomplish both getting them in contact with experienced beekeepers and a course of action to increase their likelihood of success.
As beekeepers here know, it takes numbers to be successful. If you don’t believe me make a split with insufficient nurse bees or capped brood. Timing is essential as well, start a task at the proper time and all goes easily. Success with a swarm in early April is a piece of cake; success with a swarm in August is difficult. And so it is with folks not yet knowledgeable of the mechanics of beekeeping. They want bees and a mentor not knowing the amount of effort it will take nor the proper timing in order to increase the chance of success that first year.
You too will get inquiries from friends and people you come in contact with once they know you are a beekeeper. Be prepared to help them get off to a realistic start if you want them to be successful. And that’s what it’s really about isn’t it? One hundred new beekeepers joining the association is great but not so impressive if half fail their first season because they had unrealistic expectations.
Let’s look at the “getting a mentor” concern. The old school model of getting a mentor went something like this: The mentee sought out a mentor and agreed to spend the first year helping the mentor in the mentor’s bee yard. The mentee would show up at an agreed on day and time and look over the shoulder of the mentor as he went through his hives, talking as he did so. Watch, listen, learn. Move boxes as needed and help the mentor as the tasks necessitated. This would go on for a season and the next Spring the mentor would make a split and give it to the mentee to take care of at the mentor’s yard. The mentee would work his new hive and the mentor would look over his shoulder to make sure he didn’t make any mistakes and was able to correctly comment on what he was seeing and the correct action to take. At the end of that season the mentee took his hive home and became a beekeeper.
Somewhere along the way we have deviated from this model. Now we take new comers into the hobby, put them through a 20 hour course and expect them to survive. It’s like making an early March split – risky. Nowadays the mentee wants the mentor to make visits to the mentee’s yard for instruction. And inasmuch as the clubs and associations have promoted getting the newcomers’ bees perhaps that seems reasonable to take some responsibility for assisting with issues that will naturally come up.
If we are going to move to a new model then perhaps we need to clarify and revise some terms. As it now stands we’re mixing and matching old school and new school. The new beekeeper wants a mentor, bees, and instruction. That’s reasonable. The problem is one of numbers though (remember that early Spring Splits analogy?). Most clubs can’t provide a 1:1 mentor for 100 new beekeepers every year nor should anyone expect mentors to volunteer to run around town visiting mentees weekly. So we must marry the expectations of the new beekeeper and the club acting as mentor. Each side gives and gets a bit and both walk away with more.
We do that by returning to the old school model whereby the mentee gets his/her education by visiting the mentor, but no longer at the mentor’s beeyard nor by a single mentor. The new model has the mentee visiting many mentors at events like 1) monthly meetings, 2) local educational events, 3) dinner before meetings, 4) online discussion groups 5) State Conferences, 6) connecting through fellowship with bee buddies, community outreach, etc. The list goes on… The mentee that wants to learn this art, like historically, has the resources offered and available and they go to learn – as before. The club or association organizes monthly meetings, presentations, events, newsletters, club library, allows for face to face fellowship time monthly, and online discussion groups. All things considered, the new beekeeper has more opportunity nowadays to gather knowledge than they used to with the old school model AND they get their bees their first year.
If you’ve suffered through my ruminations this far, I commend your endurance. I gave two similar presentations at this year’s state conference. I encourage the new beekeeper to take advantage of what is. There are multiple opportunities available to new beekeepers – more than enough to succeed. I also push the concept of bee buddies and fellowship for those that need a 1:1 relationship. Occasionally I hear someone complain about not having a 1:1 mentor for more personal, individual instruction as they had hoped. That’s unfortunate because they are cheating themselves out of the good of what is while wasting time wishing for the unlikelihood of what they envisioned. The fact of the matter is they have a room full of mentors at every meeting, at every gathering, at every conference. My mom used to say, “Go do the very best you can with what you’re offered. You do everything You can and You’ll succeed.” Mom was smart at marrying “what is” with success.
Misty Meadows Homestead said:
Hoping to get started this fall!!
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Susan Rudnicki said:
I would offer some insight gained by 6 years of beekeeping, much of the last 4 spent developing a mentoring model that works for me and attracts diligent students. I
I learned from others in our beeclub, getting my first bees from cutouts and swarms. (I live in Los Angeles with a abundance of feral AHB hybrids, very resilient) As people in the club saw what I was doing they asked for help learning also. At first, I did everything for free, giving away swarms, tutoring at people’s houses, etc. This garnered a number of “flakey” students—people who took bees, promised to keep getting educated, but neglected inspections, and allowed the backyard bees to get crowded and cranky. Dogs at the neighbors’ were stung, kids were stung—bad scene. Some people called me for lessons after they had amassed several hives, which over time, from poor inspection and foundationless keeping, became a cross-combed mess and they were ostensibly looking for a “bee hive surgeon” These people never paid me for this intensely messy and prolonged work and often stopped communicating once they got the mess fixed up.
I decided I had had enough of this. I now have a “bee student contract” which new students must read and sign, spelling out my expectations for their behavior and diligence and what they may expect from me. I charge them $180 to sign up. If they want me to come to their house for hive inspections, I charge them for this—however, I expect them to get hands on learning at my bee yard as a way of interacting with many hives and getting greater experience. So far, I have had to drop only one student. I find once people put some dollars down, they are not nearly so likely to take this learning and me for granted. I help all my students get their first bees via learning the craft of cutting colonies out of structures. When doing this, they get to learn a great deal about how bees make their homes, free of our human management and intervention, and usually get a very strong colony for their first hive. The advantages for learning are superior to dumping packages into hive bodies.
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Susan, Thank you for this insightful and well thought out comment. I couldn’t agree more. We’re really talking about human nature and what motivates people. Sounds like you have developed a method that gets people engaged into the idea they are beekeepers and not beehavers. No doubt, watching you cements the picture of what a beekeeper is and does. Their image changes and so does their behaviors. Excellent!
I find it hard to resist the calls for help,but am mindful that I can only use so much of the sunny summer afternoons on other people’s colonies…or my own bees suffer. Two problems are the reason for 99% of my bee rescue calls, ineffective Varroa control or missing swarm prep signs in the colony (usually due to a reluctance to inspect weekly). We are trying to create workflow decision making tree sheets for our newbies, hoping that will both help them when they are in trouble and take pressure off our more experienced bee-helpers.
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Thanks for the comment. Often I too climb into the truck for a visit if the beekeeper is relatively close. And as for Varroa and swarm control, I agree absolutely. My first question is often, “What was the last post treatment mite count?” The reply I too often get is either, I didn’t treat this year; I didn’t see any mites; or I didn’t do a mite count. So, I pretty much know it was mites depending on the time of the year. Anyway, I’d love to see that workflow decision tree sheet when you get it ready. It sounds like something we could implement here as well. Thanks again for visiting.