By Constance Lin Varroa mites, pathogens, or climate change? What exactly causes the honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)? Honey bees (Apis mellifera) offer us critical pollination services. In the United Kingdom, for instance, data from the British Beekeepers Association estimates that approximately one-third of the nation’s food supply is dependent on pollination, and more […]
Source: The Boom in Beekeeping
It’s the middle of the night, you’ve driven miles outside of town. You’re a nomad, traveling around the country, staying out of the public eye. Out of sight, out of mind. This is how Dan Wyns (a faculty research assistant and ex-commercial beekeeper) describes the reality of beekeeping: a merging of agriculture and science. “Part farmer, part carpenter, part biologist, part machine operator.” He explains. This image sparks the imagination, but this is not what many people think of when they think beekeeper. This idea is not what has caused an undeniable spike in hobbyist beekeepers in recent years.
Within the last decade, media has latched onto bees, creating a story about the extinction of bees. One fascination is Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, which was spotted around 2006, and quickly made the news. These sudden reports put bees in the spotlight, and this spotlight inspired average people; there’s nothing like a sob story to get people to take interest in an issue, and this interest soon became a trend. Bill Catherall is just one example of someone who was captivated by the news, which was one of the motivations for him to begin beekeeping in 2012. Catherall is now the president of the Portland Urban Beekeepers, an organization that aims to support both honeybees and native bees in the Portland, Oregon area. Catherall is only one of many that can confirm the sudden spike in beekeepers, “Portland beekeeping is exploding, our club almost doubles in size every year. A lot more people are in it to save the bee.” This is where many beekeepers begin: by joining local clubs, and caring for a single hive, of up to 80,000 bees .
There are three types of beekeeper: the hobbyist beekeeper, the semi-commercial beekeeper and the commercial beekeeper. Beekeepers are sorted by size and agenda, not skill level. In fact, there is a wide range of skill levels across all types of beekeeping. Commercial beekeepers keep bees as a job, this is how they make their living. According to Wyns, commercial beekeepers are also the smallest group there are only 2,000 commercial beekeepers, but, they keep thousands of hives and are responsible for about one-third of food production. The hobbyist beekeeper, or the small-scale beekeeper, keep bees as pets in their backyard. They have a small number of hives for personal enjoyment, and nothing else. This is the most common group, and the group that was inspired by the media to take up beekeeping. Semi-commercial or sideliners, fall into the middle and keep several hundred hives. At this level beekeeping is more than just a hobby, often semi-commercial beekeepers do make some money off of their bees, but they do not depend on it.
So, news teams caught wind of the struggles that were being faced primarily by commercial beekeeping , the public read these stories and became worried. This prompted individuals to begin keeping bees, and the pendulum swung upwards. But the media may have deceived us all. Dr. Michael Burgett, professor emeritus and published entomologist disagrees with the media’s claims, pointing out that “The death of large numbers of bees in an area didn’t start in 2006, there have been lots of instances in the past where large numbers of bees have died.” Dr. Burgett also pointed out that Aristotle wrote about the subject of bee die-outs and diseases 2,000 years ago, bringing to light that this is neither a new, nor surprising phenomenon, in his opinion. Bees have always bee important enough to pay attention to, and now is no different.
Overtime beekeeping has become an essential part of human life, even if you do not keep bees yourself, the pollination industry is a $15 billion industry (in 2000) in America alone  it is responsible for 35% of the food that we consume daily . According to Burgett, it’s not a beekeeping industry, its industries: the pollination industry, and the hobbyist industry. Because of the importance, and size of the pollination industry, this is where the news is focusing, but the media does not understand how this industry works. Pollination is done on a contract basis. Farmers hire hives from commercial beekeepers all around the country. Each hive cost about $50, and stays in the crop from 3 weeks to 2 months, depending on the need of the crop. Every year the bees begin their journey in the almonds in California. In late January, about 2 million beehives are shipped from all over America to California for almond pollination. All commercial hives are fed syrup and protein pellets to give them the energy that they need to begin pollination after the winter. After the almonds, bees are driven around the country on palettes to pollinate tree fruits, then blueberries, then vegetable crops, and so on until September, when there is nothing else to pollinate. At this point, the bees are fed more syrup and protein pellets, the hives are inspected, and treated if needed. This is to prepare to the bees for winter, the hives will sit until they are needed for pollination again, and the bees will stay inside the hive to keep warm, and eat reserves.
Because of the reality of commercial pollinators trucking their bees around the country, feeding them syrup, and keeping them from sickness with the use of chemicals, it is easy to see how one could blame the pollination industry for the sudden decline in bees. But this is not the case. While commercial beekeepers are losing more hives by sheer numbers, hobbyist beekeepers lose more hives by percentage. Burgett emphasized how the success of a beekeeper depends on their experience. “Commercial beekeepers cannot afford to lose hives, so they have a higher learning curve.” He says, “I have no worry whatsoever about the extinction of honeybees. I have no worry whatsoever about the extinction of commercial beekeeping. Simply because the need is so great.”
There is a misconception that you can stick a beehive in your backyard, and have honey “on tap.” This is what Catherall first thought when he had the initial idea to begin beekeeping. Then he began doing research, during this time he was fascinated by bee biology, saying, “The honeybee biology is really exciting and interesting, because they are such a weird insect, they behave in ways that we don’t find normal, or natural.” Honey bees are eusocial, meaning that they have a complex social structure. Only a handful of animals share this type of complex hierarchy in their daily lives.
The honey bee hive is run entirely by female bees, which are sorted into subcategories: the queen, and the workers. Each worker has their own role, some collect pollen, some care for the brood (the larval stage in the bee life cycle), some make honey, and so on. Every worker in the hive is controlled by the queen, who emits pheromones which allows the hive to work as a single unit. Her pheromones control the workers mood, and makes the workers unable to reproduce. The queen has one other job: to lay eggs. Without a queen, the hive will slowly die off because the workers have a lifecycle of 2 to 8 weeks, while a queen can live for years. Every bee in the colony is a daughter of the queen bee, and every bee is related to her. Genetic diversity in the hive, and in bees is entirely related to queen bees.
In 1621 the European honey bee was brought to the colonies in Virginia by settlers to aid with food production. In Europe the honey bee was already an important part of the economy . This was the beginning of the genetic diversity bottleneck. Because the European honey bee is not native, and the only means of getting honey bees to the New World was by boat, not many hives were brought over. By 1856 bees were in every part of the United States . Soon after, the importation of honey bees into America was banned. The millions of beehives that are in America today are products of the hives initially brought over from Europe.
When a queen bee is created she must go and breed with male bees or drones in order to birth workers. The queen leaves the hive once in her life, and mates with many drones as she can store the sperm for later use . After, she returns to the hive and begins to lay eggs. Unfortunately, most queen bees are only at their prime for the first year or two, then they begin to lay less eggs; for this reason, many commercial beekeepers will “re-queen” the hive yearly. To do this, they buy a new, already mated queen from a supplier, and squish the old queen. This may sound harsh, but a hive cannot have two queens, because the bees are loyal to their queen, they will kill any new queen that enters. Next, the new queen is added to the hive in a cage, and the bees get used to her scent, and will accept her. They will only accept her if the old queen is gone, the new queen is then released into the hive to live her life for the next year.
Commercial beekeepers rarely breed queens, this is often done by an outside company. There are several problems with queen breeding that is leading to a problem in genetic diversity. Firstly, in the wild, a queen bee will lay 2 to 3 eggs that will become queens, but a breeder will create up to 5,000 queens from one mother bee. Catherall puts the largest problem best, “The genetics that are found in the breeders are very tight, there are about four or five different mothers, and that’s all. But in the wild, feral populations, there is a lot more diversity, in fact the genetics in the wild populations are different than the ones in the commercial population; showing that they are not interbreeding.” Because all of the genetics in bees are so close, commercial beekeepers could easily run into problems. Should a disease come to your hive, your bees genetics are so similar, that one thing could easily wipe out your business.Genetic diversity is the key to the survival of the species, and more genetics lead to stronger, healthier hives now and in the future . Genetically diverse colonies are stronger foragers, thus creating more food storage for the winter, and the ability to grow their populations, and swarm faster and more easily . Genetic diversity also leads to a boost in fitness, and thus higher survival rates for over-wintering. The more people keep bees, the more opportunity there is for genetic diversity, luckily, bees can be kept in almost every space imaginable.
In 2014, about 1,500 people kept bees in the city of London. Camilla Goddard was one of the first, she began beekeeping in the city around 2005. The beginning was rocky, as she struggled to find place where her bees would not be disturbed. But when beekeeping became fashionable, the city of London was just one city that embraced the trend, and began keeping bees within it’s walls . Wyns says, “It is definitely possible, in a lot of ways urban bees potentially can do a lot better than bees in agriculture. Because of the diversity, everybody has their flowers and vegetables, even in real true urban areas, inevitably there are flowers and trees in city parks, and people have their verandas with a couple plants on it.” Because bees can fly several miles away from the hive, they will find the flowers. Not only are there many of diverse forage opportunities, but there are also less pesticides used in urban areas due to the close proximity to humans, and the lack of a monoculture.
“It’s in that vein of self-sustainability, grow your own food. It all fits together.” Says Wyns, who believes that monocultures, and big agricultural farming is a big cause of the current struggles that honey bees are facing. The pollination of urban areas is the opposite of monoculture.
Beekeepers agree that the current public interest in bees is a good thing. The more people who keep bees, the greater the opportunity that bees will outlive these problems . Hobbyists become very attached and protective of their bees, which is one way that this will help the bee population . Even if you’re not a beekeeper yourself, education and awareness is the key. People who begin beekeeping pay attention to the bees by planting more bee friendly flowers, and avoiding pesticides in their own gardens. There is no argument that European honey bees are facing more challenges than ever, but with the spotlight on bees, “the future looks rosy to tell the truth” says Burgett. There is more research, more interest, and more information about bees than ever before.
Wyns paints a picture of the future, saying, “It’s pretty cool to be standing on the rooftop of some giant building in the middle of a metropolitan area looking at the skyline playing with bees. I think that there’s potential there.”
1. ”Honey monsters; Urban beekeeping.” The Economist 12 Apr. 2014: 27(US). Academic OneFile. Web. 21 May 2016.
2. Chadwick, Kristi. “McFarland, Rob & Chelsea McFarland. Save the Bees with Natural Backyard Hives: The Easy and Treatment-Free Way To Attract and Keep Healthy Bees.” Library Journal 1 Jan. 2016: 123. Academic OneFile. Web. 2 May 2016.
3. Genersch, Elke. “Honey Bee Pathology: Current Threats to Honey Bees and Beekeeping.” Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 87 (2010): 87-97. Web.
4. Mattila, Heather R., and Thomas D. Seeley. “Genetic Diversity in Honey Bee Colonies Enhances Productivity and Fitness.” Science 317.3836 (2007): 362-64.
5. Sammataro, Diana, and Jay Yoder. Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 2012. Print.
6. Shimanuki, H. “Beekeeping.” Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003. 436. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 1 May 2016.
7. Wilson-Rich, Noah, Kelly Allin, Andrea Quigley, and Norman L. Carreck. The Bee: A Natural History. Lewes: Ivy, 2014. Print.
Catherall, Bill. Interview. 14 May. 2016.
Burgett, Dr. Michael. Phone Interview. 18 May. 2016.
Wyns, Dan. Interview. 20 May. 2016.
Source: The Boom in Beekeeping
I remember my first bee order. I was excited and watched and read everything I could about installing bees into my hive. The one thing that I never even thought about was if the bees I would pick up were healthy. It wasn’t until I was on my way to pick them up that I started to wonder about what a healthy package should look like. I wasn’t really sure if I would be able to tell.
As I walked into the room with hundreds of boxes stacked on top of each other, the only thing I could think of, was that I wanted one with lots of bees and one with the screen secure and not leaking bees.
Here are the two packages that I chose:
Each package consisted of a screened wooden box, 1 can of sugar syrup, 1 queen cage with a mated queen, 3# of bees and a wooden lid. The amount of honey bees is dependent on what is ordered, typically it’s 2 or 3 pounds of bees.
There’s a few things you should look for, when you get your package, before you pay. Once you pay, they are yours, even if they die within the week. It is assumed that once they leave the beekeepers property it is in your hands to keep them alive and healthy:
- Bees should be in a cluster, as seen in the picture above.
- A few dead bees on the bottom is ok – you don’t want the package if there is a thick layer of dead bees on the bottom.
- There should be more workers (female bees) than drones (male bees) – drones are just a drain on resources. Drones do no work within the hive and they feed on stored honey or get the nurse bees to feed them.
- The screen on the box should be secure on all sides – bees flying around in your car is not always appreciated by your passengers.
- Bees should not appear swollen – swollen bees can be an indication that you have sick bees.
Once you have picked up your bees you should immediately install your bees into their new hive. If you can’t:
- Store them in a cool place
- If weather is hot you can use a fan to lightly blow air through and around the cage – a sign of them being too hot is that they will no longer be in a cluster.
- If too hot, you can mist with water or a weak sugar solution on the screen to help cool them off.
I hope this helps you to choose the right package.
~May all your wandering take you to many wonderful places.
Source: Resource – MAAREC Fact Sheets
Language is fascinating, particularly the way in which it changes over time to incorporate new words, or old words used differently. In science this has important implications for understanding: semantics matter. With this in mind I’ve been curious about the alternative ways in which authors write the informal names of species. Scientific names (Genus species) should be fairly stable in their spelling and presentation (though not always, especially in the older literature); but “common” names of species vary widely geographically and temporally.
Here’s an example using Google’s Ngram Viewer which is a useful tool for tracking changes in word use over time. Different authors currently use the terms “honey bee” and “honeybee”, sometimes in the same publication. But as the image above shows. historical analysis suggests that “honey bee” is the more traditional term, and that “honeybee” only came into common usage from the start of the 20th century, and by the late 1920s had taken over “honey bee”.
Likewise “bumblebee” and “bumble bee”; despite “bumble bee” having a much earlier usage, “bumblebee” has dominated since the late 19th century:
It’s interesting to speculate about what might have caused these shifts in use, and it’s possible that in these examples it was the publication of especially influential books that used one term over another and influenced subsequent writers. Could make a good project for a student studying how use of language varies in different time periods.
For my own part I tend to prefer “honey bee” and “bumblebee”, but I can’t precisely articulate why; perhaps it’s because in Europe we talk about “the honey bee” as a single species (Apis mellifera) but not “the bumblebee” because there is usually more than one co-occurring Bombus species in a particular area. Do others have a particular preference?
“If beekeeping was easy I guess it wouldn’t be interesting.” Fleming Mattox
Reading the old timers’ beekeeping books from the 1800’s and early 1900’s I am struck with their struggles with wax moths and “disappearing disease.” It almost sounds like they are writing about today’s beekeeping struggles. We could say, “but we have mites” but then they also had the struggles of transporting their bees via horse and wagon so maybe beekeeping has always involved a bit of effort.
Books and articles written in the late 20th century talk about the additional problems encountered when tracheal mites arrived and later Varroa mites. These two pests caused many beekeepers to hang up their veil. But there have always been those that persevere through difficult times. And, ironically, some are drawn to the challenge.
I generally dislike articles written from the perspective of singling out a particular bad guy on the topic of current honey bee health problems. Instead I like those articles that state a problem and offer solutions that I can take to my own bee yard and implement. I know that commercial beekeepers take over two million hives to almonds every year which receive compensation depending on their grading. In Georgia, the package bee industry makes so many excess bees every year that it absolutely boggles the mind. My local association alone usually orders from four to five million honey bees each year – and we are only a single club. So, it can be done! I want to be like that guy with the extra bees and I’d like to see all beekeepers succeed with their bees.
Randy Oliver has said in “The Rules for Successful Beekeeping,” honey bees need four things: food, a dry cavity, help managing pests, and protection from toxins. That’s the proactive way of stating their needs and tells us what we can do to help them survive. (If your mind thinks differently he stated the same thing in a different article, “The Four Horsemen of Bee Apocalypse,” but from the negative point of view, what kills bees: famine, chill, pestilence, and poisons.) Randy runs about a thousand hives and sets up multiple experiment yards for his scientific studies. He knows bees.
It seems that thoroughly understanding the above four things that honey bees need might be the answer to keeping bees alive and healthy. The problem is each of these four items is accompanied by a lengthy list assessments, methods, timings, and manipulations. Instead of four things to remember I now have many. Not to mention I have to choose wisely among the many options to accomplish these four goals.
Soon after getting involved in beekeeping I got the thought that there might be some secrets involved to being a successful beekeeper. You know, like some sort of insider tricks which weren’t being generally offered in books and articles. I decided to start listening very closely when in conversation with successful beekeepers in the hope they’d let something slip. I checked my own thoughts and beliefs at the door and listened to them talk, hopeful of gaining a tip or trick here and there. Soon it started to pay off. Yes, there were tricks and tips that I hadn’t read about. For the most part these secrets weren’t really secrets though. They were methods and observations that really worked to satisfy, “The Rules for Successful Beekeeping.” Some were old school and some were new school. And the jewels came out when least expected, sometimes during a lecture, in casual conversation, before or after a meeting, during a get together over dinner, or in a bee yard while tending the bees. There was no telling when one of these jewels would just pop out and a light bulb would light up in my head. As for the speaker, I doubt they were even aware that the casual bit of beekeeping wisdom or artistry they had imparted was exactly what I needed to hear at that particular moment.
In closing I’m going to share with you how you too can get the inside scoop on improving your beekeeping. Beekeeping is both art and science. You can read a lot of the science but successful beginning beekeepers learn the methods of successful seasoned beekeepers. And I’ll add that this goes tenfold over for beginning beekeepers. Go to the knowledge base of your club. They are talking bees before, during, and after every monthly meeting and if you’re not there you are missing information on the art of beekeeping you need now or will need later.
I’m still a long ways from being the beekeeper I want to be. I’ve got more things to learn – some from the bees and some from others. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life Is a Journey, not a destination.” Pardon the poor paraphrase but for beekeepers, “Beekeeping is a journey, not a destination.” Enjoy the ride!
This week we are talking to Joe Lewis from Maryland in the big Ol’ US of A. This is Episode Ninety Nine of our beekeeping podcast.
Welcome To the kiwimana buzz…
Hi, it’s Gary and Margaret here, We are beekeepers from the hills of the Waitakere Ranges in West Auckland, New Zealand. Our podcast is about beekeeping, Gardening and bit of politics about environmental issues. We also have been known to go off on tangents about other issues.
This interview was recorded in October 2016.
Joe is a Beekeeper and writer from Bel Air, Maryland which is between Baltimore and Philadelphia in North America. He has a passion for the Honey Bees and took up the hobby after retiring from the US Army. He was self diagnosed with the “Not enough bees disease” over eleven years ago and spends his days trying to locate a cure.
Sustainable Beekeeping thru Nucleus Colonies “Beekeeping 357”
Click one the video below to see a video lecture by Joe Lewis
Here is what you will discover
- How to cure “The Not enough Bees Disease”
- The secret to keeping lots of bees and working a full time job
- Why Five is the right number in Beekeeping
- What the Beekeeping 357 principle all about
- How Joe started writing for the American Beekeepers Journal
Resources mentioned in the show
- Joe Business is Harford Honey, the web site is HERE
- Book Following the Bloom by Douglas Whynott can be found HERE
- The Book Beekeeping in coastal California by Jeremy Rose can be purchased HERE
- Susquehanna Beekeepers Association has a website HERE
- Joe Lewis Queen rearing Calendar Wheel, download PDF HERE
- The fifty two most important people in your BeeClub, have a read HERE
- Our interview with Randy Oliver from Scientific Beekeeping can be found HERE
- Randy Oliver’s Article Queens for Pennies, read it HERE
- North West New Jersey YouTube Channel can be found HERE
- Landi Simone Nucleus Colonies Presentation can be found HERE
- Our interview with the Great Frank Lindsay can be listened to HERE
- J Smith – Better Queens Download from Michael Bush Website HERE
A few years ago I attended a presentation given by Florida Agricultural “Hall of Fame,” 3rd generation beekeeper, and now retired Chief Apiary Inspector Lawrence Cutts at the 2013 South Carolina Beekeepers Conference.
The audience groaned as he described all the negative parts of beekeeping: the viruses, mites, increased costs, various diseases. After each lengthy, gruesome description of a malady he raised his voice and proclaimed,
“Never before, in all my years, have I been so excited to be a beekeeper.”
Finally, after much more deliberation, he gave up the punchline: “Why be excited? Because never before in all my life has beekeeping enjoyed the attention it is getting today in the media and public eye.”
The point being, beekeepers are enjoying the attention and support as never before. Beekeeping organizations on all levels are being gifted with a wonderful resource of an ever increasing number of enthusiastic beginners eager to take on the tasks of learning both the science and the art of beekeeping. It is, indeed, an exciting time to be a beekeeper. Clubs and associations have won the lottery with the influx of excited newcomers and the many talents they bring to our organizations.
Can we as local and state organizations meet the needs of these beginning beekeepers and move them towards success in their new interest? Talking with some of our older association members, I’ve learned that at one time interest in local beekeeping was much less than seen today. Meetings were small enough they could be held in any small group room, and sometimes a beginner came. In those days a mentor usually coupled with a beginner and taught them the basics. I looked into this mentoring model of teaching and discovered that it wasn’t uncommon for a new beekeeper to visit the mentor’s bee yard for a season before getting their own bees. And once the mentee received their bees, either through a spring split or swarm the next year, they may have left them at the mentor’s bee yard to work in the presence of the mentor with appropriate guidance.
Times change and nowadays we find ourselves needing ever more mentors to serve our new members. Ironically, as pointed out by Lawrence Cutts, the new beekeeper today has been drawn to a hobby that has increased in difficulty due to an increase in pests, chemicals, lack of forage areas, and increased costs.
Simply stated the job of mentoring is getting bigger and bigger, beekeeping is ever more complex, and new beekeepers are joining and needing our support more than ever before. While periodically refreshing and increasing our mentor lists is a good and worthwhile goal, the need for mentors is outpacing the supply.
To complicate matters, not only has there been in increase in beginning beekeepers, most new beekeepers wish to start their own hives at their homes. I do find the occasional member that started by visiting a mentor’s bee yard for their first year but that now seems to be the exception to the rule.
This mentee/mentor dilemma needs a better solution and there is one available.
In part two of this series I’ll offer my thoughts on what mentors can do to assist our new beekeepers and newest members. In part three, I’ll discuss what your club is doing to help you succeed. But since spring, package sales, and classes are upon us I decided to first focus my attention on the new beekeeper and their role in getting themselves through that first year in the learning process involved in beekeeping.
Surfing the web, and various discussion boards, the prospective beekeeper looking for advice is repeatedly told, 1) join a club and 2) get a mentor. That’s pretty good advice but it falls short. Joining a club is great but sending in your $10 won’t get you any closer to becoming a better beekeeper. And just finding a mentor won’t either unless he’s a good friend or neighbor that’s willing to swap lessons for apple pies. First of all, most experienced beekeepers have bees to take care of also, limited free time like most, and finding one that is close enough and willing to teach a new beekeeper may be a challenge – finding one that has the heart and willingness to make home visits is GOLD.
I’m going to suggest a new angle towards getting the new, prospective beekeeper everything they need to find success in this challenging mix of science and art we call beekeeping.
- The new beekeeper should find a local club or association and start attending meetings. Your goal is to see if the club is a fit for you. Are meetings educational? If you don’t feel it’s a good fit then look elsewhere for a club that fits you.
- Start your search for a good beginning beekeeper class. Half-day or single day classes are good for determining if beekeeping is something you’d like to learn. Better introductory beekeeping classes span multiple evenings or weekends and offer Certified testing. If your local club doesn’t offer one, look for a class at the next closest club. Attend their meetings too. The drive may be worthwhile.
- Sign up and take the next beginning beekeeper class offered. Read the handouts; read the book. Don’t be satisfied to be spoon fed the information and don’t limit yourself to only the information in the class. Consider this class your foot in the door, your introduction, the beginning of your adventure.
- Visit your local library and check out books on beekeeping. You will find some entertaining, some are scientific, and some are histories. Read all that you find helpful.
- Decide right now that coming to monthly meetings is an important part of your continuing beekeeping education. Miss one at your own risk. Many club meeting topics follow the bee’s annual cycle through the seasons. Important things to do and observe are discussed at meetings. The meeting you miss may be the one that offers the information you needed to hear that month.
- Volunteer for club activities. If your club offers community outreach at festivals and events talk to your club’s event coordinator. Volunteer to work with someone else “talking bees” with the public. If you took the beginning beekeeper class you know 100% more than the general population. Listen to the experienced volunteer you are paired with and learn from them. Talk with them during breaks. If you enjoy speaking to children there is real need to visit with elementary classes. Senior centers also appreciate visits and often contact clubs to schedule brief talks.
- Watch your bees. Even if you aren’t going inside the hive. Get a chair and sit and watch them coming and going. Soak it in. At first you’ll not have anything to compare their coming and going with. As the seasons progress, nectar flows begin and end, temperatures change, their behavior will change as well. Soon you will notice subtle changes in their behavior on the landing board. With time you’ll know when something’s wrong and needs further inspection – just by watching them.
- If your club has social events like pre meeting dinners, occasional social events, or days in the bee yard, attend them. Beekeepers tend to want to talk about bees – exhaustively. Only other beekeepers want to talk about it as much as you will. You will learn a lot talking with others at these events.
- Find a bee buddy. A bee buddy may be another first year beekeeper in your neighborhood or a second year beekeeper that lives close by. Your bee buddy is the one you call when your hive swarms and you need to borrow a box. A bee buddy is someone to visit and look at their hives; they come over and look at yours too. Bee buddies show you how to do new things with your bees. Find a bee buddy at meetings, events, or during meeting fellowship time.
- Enter your hives as often as is prudent. During some seasons the bees are docile and tolerant of your intrusions. In the spring visit them often – even every week. When you enter the hive go in with an idea of what you wish to accomplish in mind. What do you want to observe? The first few times you will be so filled with excitement you’ll forget to look for those things you set as your goal. That’s okay, look on your next visit. There are other seasons when the bees are best left alone such as when they are arranging and securing their winter home or during colder months. Take every opportunity to observe them.
- Join your club’s online discussion group if it has one. You’ll find quick answers to questions you have. Often a photo and description to the group will result in helpful responses or allay your anxiety about something you’ve never seen before. If you do have an emergency often a club member can swing by after work and take a look. Both girls and guys participate in forums and sometimes you find that you’re neighbors!
- Read your club’s newsletter. Local happenings are listed. Important dates too. Sale ads and articles of interest as well as your clubs minutes and scheduled speakers and topics keep you informed. Often the club will have an article directly related to seasonal beekeeping letting you know what to observe and do in your hives that month.
- Attend local educational offerings. Some clubs bring in out-of-town speakers for special topics of interest. Other times clubs or local beekeepers offer day classes on specific topics of interest: Queen rearing, Moving hives, Making Splits, Africanized bees, oh my!
- Attend state conferences. Even if you can’t stay for two and a half days at least go for a single day. The information you hear will be from the scholars in bee research around the country. They have a knack for breaking it down for us simple beekeepers though so it all works out. Have lunch with fellow beekeepers. If you overnight, find out where your club or neighboring club will be having dinner and socialize. Carpool with your bee buddy. Hang out in the hotel lobby and talk bees until late.
- Placed last because you may never need it if you’re working all of the above. Visit your club’s mentor list and find a mentor close to you. Preferably one that also attends meetings. Sit with them, or watch and listen to them teach at the front of the room. If you don’t understand something ask after the meeting. Offer to help your mentor do hard work like pulling supers, rotating boxes, or extracting honey. Tell them you’ll gladly help with their next swarm retrieval. Ask them tough questions that show your enthusiasm and that you’re making every effort to learn. If they know you’re dedicated to learning, attending, and making an effort it makes all the difference in the world.
In the end it’s all about learning about bees, their biology, behavior, and management. Along with that come the seasons, foliage, the bees’ cousins, and foes. Today’s prospective beekeeper has more resources that ever before: face to face education, fellowship, books, YouTube videos, discussion groups, community outreach, conferences, and more. Take advantage of every offering available and you will succeed. Now, get to a meeting!
When it comes to the current bee crisis, artist Matthew Willey sees the writing on the wall – and has chosen to paint over it. “I want to put bees in the front of everyone’s mind” the North Carolina-based artist says. He has committed to personally paint 50,000 honeybees – the number necessary for a healthy hive – on the walls of communities across America.
“As an artist I figured I could take these small, misunderstood creatures and paint them really big so people will notice them,” says Willey.
His initiative, called The Good of the Hive, uses art to highlight amazing honey bee behaviors and their connection with humans, all while raising awareness about the current honey bee struggle.”We need them, it’s not a maybe.” Willey says.
The artist was inspired by a honey bee that had flown into his NY apartment last fall. “It was moving really slowly, like it was sick,” says Willey. When the honey bee died a few hours later, he turned to google for answers.
Bees live in highly organized colonies, each with an important task. When feel they cannot perform said tasks, due to age or health, they exit the hive and do not return. “I think this behavior is amazing” Willey says, “When they feel sick, they’ll remove themselves for the good of the hive.”
This explains the phenomena of colony collapse, the mass disappearance of bees from their hives. Where typically a handful of bees would regularly leave a hive in this fashion, now thousands are, and the entire colony is left defunct. With no signs of slowing down, it’s raising red flags for the beekeeping industry and the global economy it supports.
Willey paints with the same dedication the honey bee brings to it’s hive. He understands the power an individual holds. His murals generate buzz, which ultimately lead to conversation and education about an issue that affects everyone. “We’re all connected” he says.
Willey has been shown overwhelming support for his efforts from coast to coast. His nationwide-hive “flies” along on the walls of an apartment building in Washington, elementary school in North Carolina, and on the brick facade of the Burt’s Bees headquarters. His most recent bees are painted on the blank canvas of a truck cargo trailer – you might even see it on the road. “Bees are in every community,” Willey says, “so that is where I am going to paint them.”
Stay up to date with Matthew Willey and The Good of the Hive community on Facebook and Instagram. Followers can expect to see day to day progress on his current projects, and be the first to know where he’ll swarm off to next.