It’s an odd thing, but I never encourage people to become beekeepers. Once someone decides to keep bees, I try to help them along and I enjoy that aspect. But I never try to convince anyone that beekeeping is a good idea. This arises, I think, from fundamental beliefs I have about bees in general.
For example, I believe that:
- Many people are more in love with the idea of beekeeping than with actually doing it. I put myself in this category.
- There are better ways to “save the bees” than keeping honey bees. I truly believe that caring for our environment, refraining from using pesticides, setting aside habitat, planting flowers, and teaching others about the role of bees in our lives will do more for them than owning a few colonies.
- That the bees that are really in trouble, the wild native bees, are further displaced when the density of honey bee colonies gets too high.
- That no matter how you parse it, beekeeping is not for everyone.
The parts I don’t like
When I look at the parts of beekeeping I dread, they add up fast. For example, I don’t like:
- Lifting boxes
- Making syrup
- Making candy
- Mixing pollen patties
- Feeding bees
- Dealing with mites, wax moths, beetles, wasps, and brood diseases
- Counting varroa and sugar roll testing
- Hive treatments of any type
- Dealing with mice and shrews and ants
- Worrying about neighbor complaints
- Working bees in the heat
- Working bees in the cold
- Wearing protective gear
- Not wearing protective gear
- Working bees in the rain
- Running out of sugar
- Buying sugar and hauling it around
- Scraping propolis
- Rendering beeswax
- Extracting honey
- Feeling sticky
- Wiring frames
- Repairing equipment
- Seeing robbing bees, dead bees, or sick bees
- The smell of a dead colony
- Preparing bees for winter
- Losing swarms
- Replacing queens
- Breathing smoke and using smokers
- Finding larvae in my comb honey
The parts I like
That said, some parts of beekeeping are to die for. I love:
- Watching bees at the landing board
- Watching bees on flowers
- Observing bees inside the hive
- Seeing a beautiful piece of comb
- Seeing a new bee emerge from a cell
- Watching the queen lay eggs
- Eating honeycomb
- Watching a swarm leave
- Watching a swarm arrive
- Hearing them buzz as individuals
- Hearing them buzz as a colony
- The smell of a healthy hive
- Collecting pollen
- Building new bee boxes
- Making new frames
- Taking photos of bees
Oddly enough, stings are on neither list because, although I don’t enjoy getting stung, I find the process fascinating more than terrifying. I have to admire the ones that take me on.
Why new beekeepers quit
I’ve heard many estimates for the number of beekeepers who drop out in the first couple of years, usually around 80%. But that number does not surprise me. Beekeeping encompasses a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of heartbreak. Those who embrace it, stay forever and keep bees for decades. Those who don’t, move on, and for them it is the right choice.
Moving on is okay because sometimes you need to find out for yourself. I’m often surprised by who stays and who quits, and I’m not at all good at predicting the outcome. Trying it for a while may be the only answer.
Mulling over the last straw
I sometimes wonder what will be the last straw for me. For now, I think it will most likely come in the form of some law or regulation to which I’m unwilling to kowtow. Hiring a veterinarian to diagnose and treat foulbrood? Needing a building permit for a hive? County licensing fees? Fines for allowing bees to swarm? A lawsuit for a bee sting? I don’t know what it might be, but it will come, courtesy of some politician trying to leave his mark. Whatever it is, I’ll know it when I see it.
So that’s my two cents for the day. It came to me while I was avoiding the stack of unscraped frames in my shed. They’re piled alongside several fifty-pound bags of sugar, a mountain of swarm traps housing spiders, sections of drawn comb with mason bee nests in the corners, screened bottom boards with holes, and a large bucket of unprocessed beeswax. Keeping bugs sure is a lot of work.
Honey Bee Suite