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?
Honey Bee Suite