How to get started in beekeeping
A reader from Orlando wrote to ask if he really needs ninety-some lessons before he can keep bees. My answer: absolutely not! Don’t even think about it! Very little about beekeeping has to be pre-learned.
For one thing, the word “lesson” has negative connotations—at least for me. Expressions like, “I hope you learned your lesson!” or worse, “I’m going to teach you a lesson!” have made me hate the word.
Beyond that, I believe you can over-prepare for your first hive. All the stuff you read is overwhelming until you have a hive in front of you. Although beekeeping organizations write “lessons” by the bushel and the peck, it is the bees themselves that do the actual teaching. Once you have your hive, you will start to wonder what the different behaviors mean and you will look them up. You will question how to handle a situation and, again, you will look it up. The bees will guide your education.
The beginner should relax and enjoy the bees. You can learn an infinite number of things by just sitting next to the hive and watching them come and go, noticing how they interact with each other on the landing board, seeing how they handle an intruder, and discovering what they bring into the hive and what they take out of it.
Once you have a feeling for the bees you will know what questions to ask. Your knowledge will deepen as you go along and eventually you may want to resort to “lessons.” But don’t get ahead of yourself—take it one day at a time.
So how do I recommend you get started? Here are my suggestions:
- It’s nice to watch an experienced beekeeper open a hive and perform a few basic tasks. Seeing someone else work the bees will make you feel more comfortable the first time you do it.
- Read a beginner’s book—and I mean beginner. Don’t worry about grafting queens or regressing colonies before you’ve done a simple hive inspection. In the beginning it helps to learn a few basic concepts and a little beekeeper vocabulary.
- Sometimes bee clubs can be helpful. But if you are impatient to learn, avoid those clubs heavy into minutes, dues, fund raisers, name tags, elections, and by-laws.
- Use the web to ask questions. Many beekeepers maintain websites and blogs and will try their best to answer your questions.
- In the famous words of Nike, “Just do it.” Order your equipment, order your package or nuc, and follow the directions provided. Millions of people all over the world keep bees and if they can do it, you can do it.
- Have fun—it’s the most important part.