By Richard Hines
It’s not as hard as you think, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. I have been around bees and beehives for the past 60 years. My cousin and uncle had hives. When walking around hives as a kid, I knew you did not “get in their front door.”
Now both our sons either have bees or help in some way. Two years ago, our granddaughter began suiting up, watching us work hives.
My wife and I have been keeping bees since we were married 42 years ago, and while we have not had bees the entire time, we have spent time with them. Since we retired six years ago, we have expanded from our two-hive operation to as many as twenty hives, but the most discouraging part is what should be normal expansion of new hives is not always a guarantee.
Today’s beekeepers are fighting a host of problems that my grandfather and uncles did not have to deal with including Varroa Mites, Hive Beetles, and American Foulbrood. Each year we lose hives and each summer we try to rebuild what we lost.
To make things worse, when we sell our honey at local farmers markets at the price suggested by the State Beekeepers Association, folks will ask, “why is honey so much cheaper at the grocery store?” I attempt to explain that most of that honey in grocery chains is mass-produced in places like Vietnam and other foreign countries. There, bees are force-fed sugar water rather than naturally collecting pollen and it is blended to have uniform color and taste.
All these things make beekeeping a chore, but we still have them, and we are continuing to expand our operation.
By the way, you should always buy local honey or at least from small producers. Whenever we travel, we always find a local beekeeper to buy honey. Local brands come from local flowers and the variety of flavors, colors, and tastes is wide-ranging.
I will have folks say, “Is your honey local? I bought some last year and it was dark, or it was clear, why is it different?”
This is a great question! Honey color changes through the season according to which flower is in bloom and these are things you learn as a beekeeper.
Beekeeping is an enjoyable pastime, but unlike when my relatives were keeping bees over eighty years ago, you must keep an eye on them. The days of letting the bees take care of themselves are over.
So how do you get into it? First, find a mentor. You might contact your local County Extension Agent who probably knows local beekeepers and if there is a local beekeeping association.
Most beekeeper associations are more than willing to take a “newbee” along for some in-hive experience. This will give you an opportunity to see what it is like.
Another way to find your local beekeepers is to Google “your state Beekeeper Association.” Each state organization will also have a list of local county-level associations and meeting dates.
As you get into hives, you will find each one slightly different. Clouds, temperature, and a list of things all change the mood of bees and experienced beekeepers will let you know what is about to happen. It’s all part of the process. Once you spend some time working with your mentor, begin reading some beginner books, not to mention talking to other members of the local beekeeper’s association. All will make some suggestions on where to get information.
Second, order a couple catalogs and begin pricing first-time setups. A beginner’s outfit will have a hive, frames, veil, smoker, and tools which will set you back about $220 plus the cost of the bees. You want to have your equipment on hand and your hive ready before you purchase your bees.
It is important to spend time with a mentor, so take time this summer to find one, work with them and get comfortable. Pretty soon, you will be on your way to having a hobby that is not only fun, but one that helps your local environment, not to mention having honey for you and your family.