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An age-old question about the age of beekeepers

A recent discussion on this site segued from start-up costs to the age of beekeepers, so I thought I would toss in my two cents. I believe the reason so many beekeepers are older is simply a combination of finances and decreasing responsibility for children. Time and money. End of theory.

If you don’t have a lot of money, you can make up for it by building hives, catching swarms, and refurbishing equipment. Likewise, if you have lots of money but little time, you can buy whatever you need. But many young people lack both time and money, in which case beekeeping can be difficult.

Some things just are

I don’t see that as good or bad or sad; it’s just the way it is. If you are preparing for college or paying it off, if you are raising children and contracting for daycare and braces, if you are saddled with a mortgage and a car loan, it can be tough to find the money (or the time) for a hobby like beekeeping. I agree with those you say the benefits outweigh the expense, but still, if you are tight on both time and money, beekeeping may not be the best choice.

Yes, times change. When I got married both of us were still in college. We each had multiple part-time jobs. We moved all the time, often to get closer to campus, and later to follow employment. By the time things began to stabilize, we had a child and both of us went back to school. Not to burden you with details, but it was a long while before we could afford any “extras.” That’s okay. I look back with fondness at a time filled with miserable moments. It was what it was.

Youth without resources

Last spring I was called upon to talk to a high school beekeeping club about starting up. No one had any money, so they asked me to donate a nuc. I was considering it until the faculty advisor told me they would be treatment free, at which time I no longer wished to donate and sign a death warrant for my bees. They assured me the bees wouldn’t die, after all, they had a big bag of powdered sugar.

In the end, someone else donated the bees, and I stayed out of it. But a few weeks ago—just nine months later—I got another call from them. It seems that, for some unknown reason, all their bees either died or disappeared in the fall (in spite of all that sugar) and would I once again consider donating a nuc. And maybe I could donate some mite treatments, too, since no one had any money.

These students were simply too busy and too financially strapped to even do the preliminary research. On the day I was speaking to the group, 80% of the room emptied out when they had to leave for a game, including the students who set up the meeting. They probably missed the part where I talked about cost, or maybe the part about varroa. Or maybe their faculty advisor, who never kept a bee in his life, convinced them that neither aspect was important.

I can’t fault teenagers for being without money or without time, but I do wonder when they will begin learning their own limitations. One boy, who stayed for the entire talk, told me beekeeping—even if they all died—would look good on his college application. So maybe that’s the answer?

Who knows what?

Going back to the original discussion, some people believe that older beekeepers are more likely to give you the “good old boy” routine than young ones. “Well, I keep bees just like my granddaddy did, and he never had no trouble with them mites.” But honestly, I see that attitude in young beekeepers as well. As I’ve said before, the belief that “There’s nothing about bees I don’t know,” is more related to the length of time people have kept bees than to their absolute age. You see know-it-alls in their 20s just as often as you see them in their 70s. It takes three or four years and few colony failures before they figure out there may be more to learn.

In my foolish days as a beginning blogger, I used to try to help those people and explain why they were misinterpreting one thing or another. But now, if I sense they don’t want advice, I just leave it. I’m always confused, though, by the ones who ask a question and then proceed to tell me why my answer is wrong. If they already know, why are they asking?

I had one yesterday. A guy sent a photo and ask what kind of bees were the black ones mixing with his honey bees. I told him they were honey bees, explained why I was sure (distinctive wing veins), and offered some ideas on why the bees were dark and hairless. He responded by saying he was going to ask other people what kind of bees they are.

Back in the day, I might have tried again, but now I just shrug it off. Whatever he wants to believe is fine with me. I’m sure he can find someone to say they are exotic insects that invaded his hive and his alone, and he should send them to the Smithsonian. My answer didn’t fit with his expectations, so it is meaningless. How old is this guy? I have no idea if he was 20 or 70. I only know that he’s a beekeeper who can’t recognize a honey bee.

Why is everything a competition?

Beekeeping has turned into the ultimate competitive sport. If you say you got 40 pounds of honey per hive, some guy will say he got 50. If you say you caught three swarms, that guy caught five. Or if you say your queen is going strong after two years, his is going on three. Must we be competitive about everything? Can’t we stop bragging long enough to learn something? One guy told me he only fills out the Bee Informed colony survey on good years.

And how old are these braggarts, the ones that can’t even answer an anonymous survey truthfully? Once again, I go back to my premise: I think they are all ages.

Or maybe it’s just me

So there’s my take on the age thing. But truth is, in most cases I don’t know how old my correspondents are, and I’ve probably misread plenty. Lots of people tell me how old they are with comments like, “I began beekeeping after I retired” or “My preschoolers help with the hive.” But most? No clue, so maybe I’m just flat-out wrong.

What do you think? Does a room full of old beekeepers discourage you? And if so, why?

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

The age of beekeepers doesn't matter to the bees.
“Jeese, how old is that guy?”

Comments

James
Reply

Being ill informed is ageless, Rusty, and often doesn’t improve in the young of age. A little humility maybe helpful as a cure.

Mark
Reply

I think what you write of is a huge shame. At least where I live (upstate New York) I find lots of people with open minds and a genuine interest in “breeding” bees, helping the good genetic lines development, being aware of the risks of importing endless southern strains, and frankly I rarely hear about honey as bragging rights. Where I live there are few beekeepers trying to make a living from it, in fact just one I know of in a 7 mile radius. I am fully aware of commercial keepers on apple orchards etc not that much further out but the local keepers seem to be more focused on successful overwintering, modest increase and some honey for friends and family.

For what little it is worth, I’d say the average age of those near me in 40. Maybe elderly to some!

Just to sum it up I have not yet come across a single braggart here. I really don’t think the climate here is good for breeding the bores and the overly-confident. Move here!!

Rusty
Reply

Mark,

That’s interesting. It could be my perception is skewed by the internet, but I’ve heard lots of people complain, too. It will be interesting to see what others say.

tim
Reply

I think you nailed it by suspecting the internet of skewing your perceptions a bit. I’m in a twelve step program for addiction to bee videos, seminars, and blogs as well as visiting more than one beekeeping club and “in person” contact with beekeepers has rarely to never shown evidence of “expert know it all”s. Most are enthusiastic in sharing and curious about any variances other beekeepers may have incorporated, tried, discarded, etc. Blogs and chats seem to be the realm where normally nice people get rude, snotty, or supercilious and many blogs and chats do remarkably well at filtering distasteful stuff. Your response to those one sided discussions is perfect and you do it politely…kudos. You are among my top five hundred favorite sources of beekeeping info. Told you I was addicted.

Rusty
Reply

Tim,

“You are among my top five hundred favorite sources of beekeeping info.” Thanks, I think.

Tim

Top three really…

Granny Roberta in nw CT
Reply

I agree that us old farts are more likely to have the time and money for an expensive hobby. I’m retired (someone’s paying me not to go to work—yay!) and my mortgage is paid off. Beekeeping expenses come out of the entertainment budget. The startup year was The Year Without Legos.

I think I mentioned before that I read your archive and marveled at your patience with the commenters. I definitely think teachers of beginner beekeeping classes should spend more time talking people out of it. Especially the people who can’t commit to the whole class.

P.S: I always enjoy your not-a-honey-bee posts, but ….
No matter how you’ve tried, my bee identifying skills are always going to be limited to honey bee / not a honey bee. Oh, and that one’s a bumbler … but the exact same bee will be a cute giant bumbler to me when I see it on my scarlet runner beans, and a vicious evil carpenter bee when I see it on my house.

Wait, I had a point somewhere. Yes, at least I CAN identify honey bees in all their ages and conditions and varieties. At least I don’t consult the expert and then tell her she’s wrong.

P.P.S. The year I lost all my bees, I mentioned to Bee Informed Partnership that I almost didn’t fill out the survey because of that, and asked if they thought that would skew the results. They didn’t respond.

Rusty
Reply

Roberta,

Someone will come down on me for saying so, but I really don’t trust the Bee Informed statistics. There is just way too much ego involved, and self-reporting of any type is often suspect. Waste of time in my opinion.

Gwen Simshauser
Reply

Rusty, I really enjoy your page. I became curious after a friend and former co-worker said she thought she would like to have bees. I found your page and have followed since. I know nothing about the age of beekeepers or how much time or money they have, so I can’t offer an opinion on any of that. What I would like to know is the answer to why that guy’s bees were dark and hairless.

Rusty
Reply

Gwen,

Well, the most likely answer takes us from older beekeepers to older bees. Bees that have overwintered in the confines of a hive often look very different because all their hairs wears off from rubbing against the hive and other bees. In addition the bee’s integument (skin, if you will) naturally turns darker with age. In combination, you get dark, hairless bees that can look very different from young honey bees. Robbing bees are known to lose their hair as well, because they fight other bees, but they usually are not as dark. There are also viral diseases that turn bees dark, but they are often shiny or oily looking. The bees in this case were not. They were just older bees at a feeder with younger bees. They could have come from another hive, and I’ve read that in most hives up to 20% of the bees come from elsewhere, due to drifting (losing their way home and moving in somewhere else).

Adrienne
Reply

I think close mindedness knows no age and it definitely has more influential variables than just age, for sure. The willingness to educate oneself on how things work on both sides of the spectrum is key.

Robert Holcombe
Reply

They do not discourage me. I see old or experienced beekeepers and newbies as an opportunity to learn. You just have to separate the chaff from the wheat. I’m an old newbie in his fourth winter with eleven colonies. I try to listen to all and ask questions. Questions are not always well received or answered.

Why do they “not” discourage me and some have tried? My experiences and work history has taught me that all people make some contributions, some much more than others. When summed up we come out average. The Wisdom of the Collective provides clues and answers if you know how to evaluate and search. I can afford bees today as a hobby but being frugal I still build my own stuff, and buy books. I especially like to use recycled materials and organic growth. I have seen all this behavior before. As a kid working through high school, college, as a design engineer working with manufacturing and customers. As a newbie I joined my first ever “club”. I must say the behavior and priorities of many young and old people scares me in the long term. But I also admire many as well, especially when they want to learn and change, willing to work and think. I enjoy helping other newbies as a Contrarian newbie but I am a bit selective now.

I hope this make sense and keep trying.

Rusty
Reply

Robert,

It makes sense to me.

Charlie Rivers
Reply

Was at the first Stanly Co. NC bee class this week & the only old folks there were instructors, no room full of old beekeepers. I suspect most of the older folks where home resting, sometimes it gets tough on us old timers (82 here). Rretired from corporate life & just working the bees, building bee hardware, cutting wood for our wood burning stove, cleaning brush, planting a garden, you know those small things that young folks do not have time for.

Rusty
Reply

Charlie,

The people who do stuff, keep doing stuff. Those who do nothing, don’t do it for long. Congratulations!

Becca
Reply

Second piece of life wisdom I’ve found in the comments this morning!

Gerry
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Thanks for a blog post that resonated on many points. I’m late to the party (retired) and entering my third year. I just lost a strong colony this fall, and it sent me to my many books, knowledgeable bee supplies guy, beekeeper association colleagues — and you. I can spend days learning in your blog archives!

I particularly like your down to earth attitude and that you answer so many inquiries personally in the Q & A or blog comment section. Shame you weren’t a neighbor here in southern Ontario.

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Gerry.

Sharon
Reply

I found your article right on the mark! I think the “back-to-the-land” movement has generated some younger beekeepers but I feel sure their finances are really tight. Most beekeepers I know are retired or headed there. My issue with “old” beekeepers is that they seem to easily fall into the “good-old-boys” mindset and new/young keepers can find this discouraging.

I really enjoy your down to earth and reality writing. Thanks.

Dawn
Reply

In my area there are many elderly beekeepers – the majority of us are middle aged, not yet retired, but kids are grown and we have a little more time and money to invest in projects – and I would agree with the exact reasons you suggest – time and money. However, I have seen a fair number of young adults showing up at the bee club meetings. I live in an area where the locavore concept is big, hobby farms, etc, and I think that honeybees just fit into that whole mindset.

Becca
Reply

Your perception is not skewed! Goodness! It was like you wrote down one of my rants. Unfortunately, I have yet to learn the wisdom of shrugging it off. Thanks for such a great article. I’ll be sharing it!

Rusty
Reply

Becca,

I’ve come to like shrugging it off. Saves me lots of time.

Ron N
Reply

I personally feel talking to “old” beekeepers is a great idea because they have been there, seen that . One doesn’t have to take it all to heart but I bet most of them are doing things right or they wouldn’t be “old” beekeepers.

Rusty
Reply

Ron,

That is true, but the original discussion was about new beekeepers who are older when they start. The ones who irritate me are not beekeepers with much experience but brand new (but elderly) people who take on the old-boy persona after their first 15 minutes of beekeeping.

Richard Rurup
Reply

Some people need trophies, others don’t. I’m feeling good because I just realized I’m a beekeeper with an average age of 32. Good luck to all.

Bruce Snavely
Reply

Rusty,

A room full of old beekeepers does not discourage me at all, instead they amaze me with their stories and their tenacity to hold on when they’ve had a really bad year. They are a huge encouragement to me because they have not given up. They’re still beekeepers.

Rusty
Reply

Bruce,

You are talking about older beekeepers with actual experience. I’m talking about older beekeepers with zero experience who pretend to know it all.

Jeanne L
Reply

You got me! I started at 50. I just hope I get to continue after this winter!

Tracy
Reply

I agree that the beekeepers I’ve met do tend to be older, and you’re probably right about time and money. Who has time (or money) for hobbies of any kind, including bees, when you have kids to drive around to all their activities! I find that most beekeepers when you meet them in person are curious to learn and share with each other. And yes, occasionally there is that person who is a complete know it all (and usually actually knows very little). I smile and nod while playing the show tune “I can do everything you can do, better” in my head and think of them as the pure entertainment they really are. ?

Craig
Reply

I’m going to guess that education has something to do with this. Not just formal education but also a simple desire for knowledge. Or something like that.

It’s been my experience that people who are ignorant and close minded in one area will be so in almost every area. This type seldom seeks information because they think they already know everything.

Someone once said that the first step toward gaining knowledge is the statement, “I do not know”. Some people’s ego won’t allow them to make that statement. Thus they will never seek to educate themselves, either formally or otherwise.

Your mileage may vary. 🙂

Rusty
Reply

Craig,

So true.

Jeff Richardson
Reply

I hadn’t thought about the average age of beeks until I read this. I hadn’t thought about the level of humility either. Personal experience has taught me that a failed hive can teach humility. Can we brag about our humility?

The beekeepers I have talked to locally are all “older” than 35 folks. Most are well older. I am 57. My kids thought I wasn’t busy enough, couldn’t figure out what to get me for Christmas in 2016, or just wanted someone else to do the work and give them honey – whatever the reason, I got a beehive and some bees. My first hive didn’t make it a year. I am on my second package and I think I will get them through this wet N.GA. winter. These are Buckfast bees, and Rusty, you’d love them (NOT!)

My first package was really calm and laid back. These Buckfast bees are not very nice. I’ve been stung more just walking by than I was even when checking on my last bees. Not fun, but they are hardy. I know how much you love a hot hive!

Phillip
Reply

Jeff,

I agree. A failed hive is the best teacher. It keeps you humble. But not only that, I’m always doing something stupid with my bees, making mistakes that aren’t usually catastrophic but afterwards leave me thinking, “I’m glad nobody saw that.” My curiosity gets the best of me, perhaps, because I’m always doing something that I know might not be a smart thing to do, but I do it anyway. It’s like I’m setting myself to make mistakes, but that means I’m always learning too. It’s a weird methodology I’ve fallen into. I guess I don’t entirely trust books and beekeeping advice I read online and I just need to find out for myself. Is anyone else like this?

But yeah, what you said about losing a colony is so true in my experience.

Helen Tworkowski
Reply

Hi, I have suffered from feeling a totally incompetent beekeeper. So many people have told me how well they do, so much better than me. I take them at face value.
I now think after 18 years I know a little and have basic skills. I am going to delight in the fact I have a long and interesting journey in beekeeping ahead. They who know it all however know it all and have nothing to learn. Sounds like hell to me.

Rusty
Reply

Very good point, Helen. Like you, I love learning things. It would be boring to have nothing to learn.

Ray
Reply

I’m 60 years old and 4 years into keeping bees (statistics for your records Rusty!). Your article perfectly sums up why, after those 4 years, I no longer interact with folks on the ‘social media’ and infoblog pages. I feel your frustration at giving good, hard earned, wise, educated advice, only to have it ignored. I am a raw beginner in beekeeping terms but did, once or twice, try to offer an answer based on my limited knowledge only to have it ignored because 23 other people gave an answer they liked better! I blame the internet, but that’s another whole subject for another day. Suffice to say that now I just keep my head down, read all I can, study the bees behaviour and do my best to cram new knowledge into my ageing brain. Keep up the good work Rusty, you are one of the very few who cut straight to the nitty gritty and give great info and advice even if some don’t want to hear it!

Rusty
Reply

Ray,

I’ve evolved quite a bit in the nearly ten years I’ve been writing this blog. In the beginning I felt I had to please everyone, but I quickly learned that doesn’t work. Now I just write what I truly believe, and those things come from tons of reading and experimenting. Now I figure if someone doesn’t like what I write, they don’t have to read it.

Brian P. Dennis
Reply

A beekeeper may have kept bees for twenty years and had one year’s experience repeated 19 times!

Rusty
Reply

Brian,

I never thought of it that way, but now you mention it…

I’ve known many who buy a few packages every spring, but never make it till winter.

Becca
Reply

Brian, going to have to remember that one!

Sandra Sterling
Reply

Well, I only started 2 years ago and haven’t been able to keep a hive alive through the winter yet, so I’ve got a lot to learn before I can give much advise. I’m 60 and can tell you that I try to listen to what everyone has to say, for the most part I think the more experience someone has at something the wiser they should be but that’s not always true either. I think beekeeping is a trial and error process, I’ve learned a lot in the past 2 years but no matter how much I read or who I talk to there is always another opinion. It is however a time consuming and expensive hobby. I guess at some point if I can’t get one through the winter I’ll give it up but I really enjoy it and hope to one day have a few successful hives.

Rusty
Reply

You will get there, Sandra. Try to weed through competing advice by deciding what seems right to you, then follow your gut feelings.

Ann
Reply

I agree Rusty! Time & money make the “hobby” much more likely for more mature people. We waited for retirement for just that reason. Even if you build your own hives, everything makes it costly – the outfit, the mite prevention, the other equipment, etc. I also agree that it has become a competition for many. I’d love to see more of the mentoring which would benefit the bees, the beekeepers, & the planet. When we started we could not find any mentors in our area, although there are lots of beekeepers. That’s why we are eternally grateful for your column, and also the local beekeepers association. Things change constantly, & it helps to have new ideas & education spread among us. We have a WONDERFUL group affiliated with our CT Berkepers Assoc., which meets monthly for a proposed topic, but allows questions & discussion about any topic. It is run (voluntarily) by Bill Hesbach. Also our CT Beekeepers Assoc. has routine classes & demonstrations on seasonal upkeep. They also bring in very prominent speakers & meetings are attended by very prominent local beekeepers who add an important dimension to our local questions about issues. Learning is an ongoing venture! I’ve learned it’s never finished.

Rusty
Reply

Ann,

You are lucky to have Bill Hesbach. He is a national treasure!

Larry
Reply

Rusty, I know what you mean, and I too have learned, over the years, to just let it go. I got into beekeeping about 4 years after I retired from the state, Tx, in 2010, and I’ve over wintered bees now for 3 winters. I know, the numbers do not match up. I learned about beekeeping in late 2014, and started my learning quest. In 2015 I found and joined a local bee club, but I was too late, and too poor, to get any bees that year, so having a little bit of some woodworking skills, I made my own hives, tops, bottoms and frames, in 2015. I purchased my first 2 hives in the spring of 2016.

Today, I teach a class, thru our club, for Beginning Beeks and I mentor some of those students. I’ve run the gambit of, know it alls, to please do it all for me, and everything in between, and they come in all ages and genders. However, I’d say our average New Beek is in around their mid 40’s, and I’d say our club membership average age is a little older, say something like mid to late 50’s.

As for bragging, or as you more gently put it, competing…Well, I think you’ve hit it right on the head. The first lair doesn’t stand a chance.

Rusty
Reply

Larry,

“The first lair doesn’t stand a chance.” Cute. I will have to remember that one.

Jerald Dow
Reply

Rusty,

I really enjoy reading about all of your honey bee wisdom and experiences that you pass on to the rest of us. You really provide a ton of valuable info for beekeepers of all types. If you don’t mind, I do have a couple of basic questions for you tho – Since you treat for varroa mites, feed your bees when required, etc. Do you still lose colonies, if so, about how many each year of your total hives? How old would you say are your oldest colonies?

Best regards,

Jerry Dow

Rusty
Reply

Jerald,

Oh sure, I lose colonies. I lose maybe 20% in most years, which I try to make back with splits. I think the most common reason is queenlessness. I lose a queen now and then when I’m not paying attention and don’t realize it until the population starts dropping. I’ve also lost colonies when they get into pesticide-treated trees, and on occasion to yellowjackets and hornets. My oldest colony is in my one top-bar hive. I saw it move in ten years ago as a swarm, and it’s still there.

Keith
Reply

Rusty,

Do you advise people to avoid repeating your top bar hive experiment? A lot of people get into beekeeping hoping to make a cheap hive, tempt a swarm to move in, and let it fend for itself for a decade. They get a heaping help of discouragement from the beekeepers at their local clubs. I can’t see the harm.

Rusty
Reply

Keith,

I don’t have anything against top-bar hives. If people want to use them, fine. I’m surprised, though, to hear “A lot of people get into beekeeping hoping to make a cheap hive, tempt a swarm to move in, and let it fend for itself for a decade.” I thought a swarm making it on it’s own for ten years was unusual.

Cal
Reply

Time, money, location and stability are the filters I see. The natural result is a more aged group of beekeepers, since in the average family both parents work now. I’ve not perceived an age-related sclerosis of thought, though. Perhaps the opposite, with the folks having more birthdays behind them being more aware that life is full of vagaries and multiple paths to an end.

Jerald Dow
Reply

Thank you Rusty,

May I please ask what type/style of top-bar hive that you have the 10 year old colony in? Do you treat this colony like a Langstroth hive for varroa mites? Do you take any honey from this top-bar colony?

Jerry

Rusty
Reply

Jerald,

My husband built the hive from plans he found on the internet. Since them, I’ve looked for those plans again, but I never found them. I do not treat it for mites. I do mite counts though, and if it needed treatment, I would treat it. I’ve never gotten an ounce of honey from it. I mainly keep it as a curiosity, and since it’s been occupied for ten years, the whole thing is falling apart. The trees have grown up around it, so it’s deeply shaded 24/7. Right now, it is my strongest, most robust hive. Go figure.

Jerald Dow
Reply

Rusty,

I am also a top bar beekeeper and I was interested in your top bar experience, thank you. I also do not ever open my hives for any reason. I have Warre style hives and Tanzanian style top bar hives that are all specially built by me with some important features. Some are located in partial shade, some in full shade and a few are in sun. I have strong gentle hives in all of these conditions. I also lose about 20% of my colonies, but I am finding that I was trying to save Late June and July swarms and they just seldom make it thru the first winter, so I will be letting these swarms go in the future. I do not feed. My oldest hive is 6 years old and like a true feral colony this hive swarms at least twice a year, I love it. Actually, all of my hives swarm at least once per year. It’s a sign of good colony health to swarm in my opinion. Several of my best hives are from these swarms. My new favorite hive is a Warre hive that I built on a 5 ft. high platform on a tree next to our street [my street hive]. This hive is camouflaged so well that no one even knows that it is there when they walk past. I call my hives “set it and leave it” hives.

Anyway, not to take up much of your space or time I would love to discuss what I have discovered about my bees further with with you should you ever be interested.

You write some great articles, especially for new beekeepers. Hey, we all have to start someplace, eh?

Best regards, Jerry

craig
Reply

Some people are hard headed no matter what, asking ten people the same question even though they get the same answer each time. What is your opinion of the Saskatraz Hybrid?

Rusty
Reply

Craig,

I have no personal experience with Saskatraz bees, but I have heard mixed reviews. Like any hybrid, it’s impossible to keep the line pure once the queen’s offspring is bred to local drones. In general, I prefer locally adapted bees over hybrids, but that’s just me. I have nothing against Saskatraz.

regina
Reply

Hi there. I started beekeeping in 1983, when I was in my early 30s. At that time, we didn’t have the mites around so my only real worry was getting them through our cold Maine winters, successfully. Beekeepers didn’t have to worry about the mites then. Today, w/the mite problem, we spend so much more time monitoring our hives and medicating—these are things we didn’t have to do back then. I honestly feel that the major reason we see so many older beekeepers today is because we can handle the time commitment so much better than young families.

On another note, is there somewhere we can send you a donation check? I really don’t like donating online (ok, so I’m old-fashioned and cautious).

craig
Reply

In regards to Saskatraz hybrids I started out last year with 5 nucs I made with Caniolan bees but new hybrid Saskatraz queens. I made the nucs late in the summer but if I was to do it all over again i would have done it early spring if I could . The bees are very docile fly past me like im not there at all but being its bee the first season I cannot judge their productive behavior compared to other species . Docile yes very very good there. But that is based on the queens I received . I bought 4 Carniolan queens the same season and 3 hives were docile and one was really not . So goes without saying you need to keep up on your hives even a walk through to see whats doing on without opening as much as you can to check for anything issues pests strange behavior like that hive i mentioned so you can address it at some point. Keep in mind the drones carry that hives queens genetics so replacing a queen might work in the long run but her drones carry on her legacy no matter what.

Rusty
Reply

Craig,

Nearly all varroa-resistant genes are recessives, so even though the drones carry the recessive gene, it won’t express unless that drone mates with a virgin queen that also has that gene. It’s a fairly low probability, in any case.

Brian P. Dennis
Reply

Comments about older beekeepers reminds me of the story of two old beekeepers sat at the back of the room at an association meeting. They had heard it all before and had probably forgotten more than the speaker had to offer. Bert turned to his friend and said ‘There are no characters in beekeeping anymore’. Fred thought about this for a moment and replied ‘You old fool. We are the characters’!

Rusty
Reply

Very good, Brian.

Peter
Reply

Hey Rusty,

Peter here from London. I started keeping bees 3 years ago. I don’t belong to beekeepers association nor have mentor. I don’t know it all so each time I got a question, I simply google it;). Usually I find many answers and go for the ones I think or feel are logical. So far it worked for me. Started with one tiny colony given to me in August 2016. Now I got 5 colonies and gave away 3 to neighbours. London (South East where I live) is great for bees and honey. If you get free bees, you can find materials on the street to build a hive (that is if you got skills to build it). Some Varroa treatment are pricy, but worth it. London is booming with new beekeepers-some young some old.

craig
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The fact that you pointed out about the saskatraz hybrid regarding drones was exactly a issue I had with the supplier of package bees stating they sell saskatraz bee packages …my concern was are the bees just package of bees with a saskatraz mated queen or actually saskatraz bees with a young mated saskatraz queen …reason of course is if you want a particular trait and you get a 3 lb package of bees but the queen is what you want but the rest are something you have no idea what they are the drones from that package may carry traits from a queen you don’t want in your breeding program or apiary. I called the place that sold the Saskatraz packages no return call back my huge concern was just that I don’t want drones that i have no idea what traits they are suppose to carry not to say that the ones I expect to have will either but the thought is to gear toward one objective.

Rusty
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Craig,

Usually packages don’t contain many drones, but if you are concerned, dump the package through a queen excluder when you’re installing it and remove the drones.

Dennis
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Rusty,

I live in north Idaho up towards Priest Lake. I’m a first year beekeeper. I just lost one of my two hives. It happened to be the best hive during the summer. It had a large colony late into fall. Started to get big die-off in November. They also started pooping a lot. At first I thought it was just the nice weather. Has been a warm winter for the most part. I tried to get some honey-b-healthy in to them with some syrup but they didn’t take much of it.

They were up on top of the top box so I thought they had eaten all the stores so about two weeks ago I made them a candy board with some h-b-h in it (no cook). I watched it every day or two and they were up munching in it. A couple days ago I looked and no one was up there so I pulled the candy board off and no live bees. I took the top box off and nothing alive just dead bees in between frames. I pulled some of the frames in that second box down and I could see clear to the bottom, nothing moving and no noise. One odd thing is that the frames I pulled were full with honey but all the caps were open, so they had a lot honey.

All my boxes are westerns. This hive was four westerns with most of the top two frames full honey.
My other hive is only three westerns high and I just gave them a candy board today because they have moved to the top of their last box. Any ideas on what else I can do to help my last hive?

Rusty
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Dennis,

It’s hard to say. When honey has excess water in it, it can exacerbate honey bee dysentery in the winter. Because the honey was uncapped it probably had a lot of water, which means the bees couldn’t retain their feces for as long. But why they died is unclear. If they went queenless at any point, it could mean there weren’t enough bees to keep the colony warm.

Renaldo
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Western Oregon

Been trying to learn for nearly 10 years. We have learned many things. Mostly, humility. Every time we lose a colony, it is a heartbreaking event. So far we have found nearly endless ways to lose, kill, neglect to death or mistreat bee colonies. At age 74, we have the time and money to soldier on, though the pain may defeat us at some point. Our last colony was raided to death last fall and I am ashamed. I recognized the attack when it was too late. We had taken the harvest, left the two deeps undisturbed and four frames in one super. Had (have) 4 frames stored in the freezer to feed this winter. Robbed and murdered, all. This is a hard “hobby”. I read all the time, think I have learned something and still lose my girls. Humility is hard, painful and humbling. Thank you for your blog.

Rusty
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Renaldo,

I met some people from Detroit Hives who are promoting beekeeping. They have a slogan about humility, “Stay Bumble.” I like that and have revised it slightly to “Bee Bumble.” It’s a good thing to remember.

Glen Buschmann
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I still keep going to beek meetings even though I don’t/won’t have hives. I watch and learn, and teach a bit about the other pollinators. Certainly there are a lot more two yr keepers than ten year keepers. That is o.k. In some ways the just past novices bring vitality cause they are not set in their ways, have been humbled and now are ready to test and fail. Even more, who I really respect are the ten year+ keepers who are still restless, who challenge themselves to testing new techniques that might work better. We have a sub group dedicated to sustainably propagating healthy queens and colonies and barely care about honey extraction. They bring an intense vitality to some of the discussions.

Sadly, my current frustration is with an experienced beek who is a know-it-all new mason bee warrior with a honey beek production mentality and dollars in his eyes. I have to figure out how to overcome his energetic mistruths as he convinces folk that bigger is better, that 700 nest holes are better than 50, that not only are m.b.’s better than h.b.’s, they can be stretched and manipulated with little disregard for life cycle, carrying capacity, pest propagation, or the many other species of bees. It doesn’t bother me that in a few years his operation will collapse. What bothers me is how poorly prepared I am to teach against this misguided bully certitude that others are following.

Sorry. Just yesterday a friend just reminded me that “talk is cheap, because supply exceeds demand”. Before I went on that rant, I was starting to say how much I appreciate those beeks with both an open mind and and the clarity to switch direction before ruination. The best new beekeepers of any age seek out wise counsel and offer more help than opinion. That may also true for the best old beekeepers, and maybe I’ve answered my own question.

Rusty
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Glen,

I want to say to the mason bee warriors, “You should learn from the mistakes of honey beekeepers. Let’s not spread disease far and wide and then try to fix it later. I’ve seen too many mason bee habitats turn into cesspools of disease and filth. Yes. His bees will all die. And then he will figure out how to destroy some other species. It is so, so sad. And what is the point?

Claire
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We have a mix of older and younger people attend our 2-day Introduction to Beekeeping course and attending our group. I’d hazard a guess the ‘youngsters ‘ are in their 30s and the ‘oldies’ are 50+. We have a few with young families and their children seem to be involved/interested in what Daddy’s up to with the bees. Don’t seem to have an issue with ‘mine’s bigger and better than yours’ in the group. Probably slightly more skewed towards the older age range but a lot of those are still working full time. I have been keeping bees for around 6 years, 7 hives and turned 59 a couple of days ago. Semiiretired, work casually.

Claire in Melbourne, Australia

Rusty
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Thanks, Claire. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the countries. They don’t seem very different.

Jennifer
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One of the biggest frustrations I have is advice geared to those with an abundance of time (the demographics of our club skew to those who are retired). I work full time with traditional hours, and conversations about timing make the assumption I have an abundance of daytime hours. Not a problem in the summer when every weekend and most early evenings after work present great conditions for beekeeping. But this time of year when the weather is cold and daylight is limited “you should have gotten into the hive by now” isn’t really practical advice when darn near every weekend has been frigid or wet.

Rusty
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Jennifer,

That’s certainly true here where it is always wet and often cold. I’ve worked through that by learning how to do everything fast and efficiently as possible, because you can’t always wait. See “When is it too cold to open a hive?.”

Roger Muellemann
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Honestly Rusty, I really enjoyed the article. I have been involved in a number of clubs over the years (non-bee related) and in most regards they are all the same. Some know it all, some have the latest gadgets and preach why you need them too, but there are those that try to help and there are enough of those that I keep chugging along. The bottom line is that I enjoy beekeeping. If I don’t get any honey from my girls in a given year, so what, there is always next year. As far as knowing it all, in my mind there is always something to learn. I try to listen, watch and read and do the best I can. Hang in there! Roger

Gary Van Scyoc
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Hi Rusty, I have been reading your words of wisdom for a few years now and it is with great interest that I look forward to more. As to the question of age I am going on 70 yrs. I got my first hive three years ago and have lost every one. Last year I started two hives and I have learned from them both. So far in 2019, after some very brutal weather, both of my hives seem to be doing wonderful. What I have learned is : Keep them dry, Keep them fed and give them room to grow. If you do your hive inspections they will tell you what they need. Read a lot, ask questions and most important be honest with yourself! Thanks for all of your wisdom and patience.

Anna S.
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My general observation is that it doesn’t matter how old people are — it’s what they learn from what happens to them. Too often people go through life without learning much; I suspect it has to do with (too much) television and entertainment.

Also, just wanted to say that the two bees in the photo are absolutely gorgeous! Thank you for posting that photo.

Rusty
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Thanks, Anna.

Dan
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Beekeeping was what it was and is what it is, an anthology of the human race with every facet of “the good, the bad and the ugly.” It is heartening to see from the blogs there are still those in beekeeping as in every walk of life that can think. Bee well.

Steven
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For your demographic interest, I just got started with a couple of hives last year and I’m 34, married without children.So far I haven’t really had much contact with other beekeepers so I can’t say much about encounters with old hands and old attitudes. I will say however, that I did once run into a member from our local beekeeping association last summer who was inspecting a beehive in a local city park when my wife and I were out for a stroll. We had a pleasant conversation and he briefly got me interested in coming to the meetings but I ultimately decided not to. He seemed nice enough, but something within me felt that if I showed up I’d be regarded dismissively as a know-nothing, or I would have to endure much ego-stroking by experienced beekeepers, when really I’m only interested in having an outlet to talk non-competitively and non-judgmentally about experiences in beekeeping, without the dogmatism. I don’t know where this apprehension about other beekeepers has come from, except probably the same internet where I’ve learned most of what I know about beekeeping.

Rusty
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Steven,

We are all different and react in different ways. I seldom go to bee meetings because the dogma upsets me. It makes me want to point out the science versus the conventional wisdom, but I know no one will listen. The answer for me is to avoid the whole thing and stay home.

Beelacksmith
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I’m 64 been beekeeping 4 years. When asked about beekeeping I tell them, I only know how to spend money and get stung, but I’ll try to help you.

Thank You Rusty!

Becky
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Rusty,

I’m 37 and have been keeping a handful of hives for 5 years now. I’m a biology professor and I help run the beekeeping club at the college where I teach. I recently started a 4-H program for beekeeping. I like our county meetings full of “old people” because there is lots to learn. I see a diversity of ages in beekeeping here in Colorado.

Bridget-NZ
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Hey Rusty, just wanted to let you know how much your work is appreciated down here at the bottom of the world. I’m fortunate that my local bee club is friendly and supportive, with both commercial and hobbyist beeks ready to lend a hand. My relationship with my girls is not simple. I too like bees but am not keen on heaving round heavy boxes full of annoyed insects. Mostly they’re calm and biddable, if I’m polite. And I try to learn what they have to teach me. For the rest, I rely on your wisdom and humor. Thank you.

btw, in spring I tried a Taranov split following your instructions- it worked like a charm! The girls divided themselves exactly as you said. Fabulous!

Rusty
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Bridget,

Thank you, and I’m glad to hear the Taranov split worked for you. I think it’s the most fun thing I’ve ever done in beekeeping.

Jack umar
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I have no personal experience but I try.

Keith
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I’ve been trying to keep my head up with the bees and money. I worked all last year building equipment and buying equipment to go out there last week of Feb to find my bees all gone. No idea where…no dead bees..no honey.. everything gone…the first week of Feb I opened the hive and there was a lot of bees in there…I gave them some honey from last year…two weeks later gone…I’m thinking I made a big mistake opening them up and messing with them that early…all that said, I know people around me in TN that have had bees all there life and they have losses too, and I am 50 and just now getting to bees. I’ve always wanted some, but didn’t have time to or money. But they are cool and I’m going to keep trying.

Rusty
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Keith,

Your description of the missing bees sounds exactly like collapse due to varroa mites and viruses (no dead bees, everybody gone). Did you treat your hives?

Keith
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Tried to with garlic powder and syrup….my bee mentor has been trying to get me to get a heated mat to kill those pest…so basically no I didn’t do near enough….I thought maybe they ran out of food….it I opened them up too early.

Dawn
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My husband started two hives in October (he’s just over 50), and our seven year old has picked up an interest, as much as a 7 yr old can. He’s even started his ‘first website’ to save the bees. We just hope to plant the seeds of love for bees, growing his own food and all things nature. We will see how that goes. Aloha and thank you for your bee blog!

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