I am Scrooge, the beekeeper. The Scrooge part of me stays pretty well hidden until someone remarks, “Ask ten beekeepers and you will get twelve different answers!” This statement turns me to stone. I know better than to respond because what I would say isn’t friendly. What I would like to say is either, “Well, dah!” or “That’s the best they could do?”
Raising children and dogs
Think about raising children. Is there one answer that helps all children? One technique that appeals to all parents? Or how about dogs. Is there one way to raise dogs? One way to train them? Of course not, so why would anyone think honey bees are different? If a beekeeper is thinking, he should have multiple answers for most any question. In fact, I would say that if ten beekeepers have only twelve answers, then eight of them aren’t really beekeepers. Or they’re asleep.
But kids and dogs are easier than bees because we have something they want. It might be affection, acceptance, food, a hug, or a pat on the head. But honey bees? We have absolutely nothing they want. They prefer we go away. Now. But that’s not going to happen. We’re beekeepers, and it’s our job to not go away.
Since appeasement and compromise are not effective beekeeping strategies—“Swallow your mite meds and I’ll give you a treat!” just doesn’t work—we have to use alternative management techniques. But the techniques to use always depend on the situation.
Multiple answers should be expected
If you understand that management depends on many factors, then multiple answers to a question shouldn’t be surprising, right? The correct answer depends on the situation, and the situation is always different.
Successful beekeepers know this and realize that what works for them might not work for someone down the road. Or in two adjacent hives. Or in two consecutive years.
The variability in colony strength, nectar flow, weather, environmental toxins, and bee genetics is why the learning curve for beekeepers is never-ending. No beekeeper ever arrived at the end of the curve. As I’ve said before, the more you know the less you know. That’s because the more you learn, the more possibilities you recognize. With each passing experience more choices appear along with new forks in the road.
The master and the novice
What, then, is a master beekeeper? A master beekeeper is not someone who knows it all. He or she is simply a person adept at learning and evaluating. A master beekeeper is someone open to possibility and to new ideas. A master beekeeper is someone who is willing to let go of dogma and look at the facts.
On the other hand, the new beekeeper wants specific instructions, very similar to the ones that come with a new gadget. I can just imagine a label pasted on the outside of a bee package. “For a healthy colony, follow steps 1-27, add syrup, wait six weeks. Kit contains no user serviceable parts.” That a newbee wants concrete instructions is understandable, but until he goes beyond that mindset, he won’t mature as a beekeeper.
How to do it
At this point in my rant, someone invariably will ask, “How?” How do you get past that mindset and become a true beekeeper? Well, guess what? Ten beekeepers will have fifty answers. Why? Because how you get there will vary with the individual.
Here are some thoughts on evolving as a beekeeper. You might call them resolutions for the New Year.
Resolution #1: Look inside your hive often enough to recognize normal
Many beekeeper questions can only be answered by looking inside your beehive. If you don’t know what’s going on in your hive, certainly no one else will. The first step is learning to recognize “normal” when you see it. After that, recognizing “not normal” is a whole lot easier.
Resolution #2: Look outside your hive for changes in your bees’ environment
The next thing to notice is the environment. This involves looking outside your beehive. Are flowers in bloom? Is it rainy? Dry? Hot? Cold? Windy? Are your neighbors spraying chemicals? Is it noisy? Quiet? Foggy? We don’t keep bees in a vacuum. Many different environmental conditions influence a colony of bees.
Resolution #3: Learn to recognize the cyclic nature of nature
Recognize that nature is cyclic. Everything you will be dealing with as a beekeeper is cyclic. The seasons. The weather. The day length. The plant life cycle. The bee life cycle. The mite life cycle. The moth life cycle. The beetle life cycle.
These cycles can augment each other or cancel each other out. For example, in the northern hemisphere, the population of varroa mites explodes just as the honey bee population wanes. These two curves come crashing together in August and poof! The number of mites per bee explodes.
A similar thing happens with nectar dearths. They are cyclic and predictable in many parts of the world. If you know a dearth is coming, you can take proactive steps to protect your colonies from likely predators, including robbers and wasps.
If you understand these cycles you don’t have to wait to see what will happen. Instead, you can often predict what will happen. Beekeeping is a lot easier if you’re not always ambushed by the inevitable.
Resolution #4: Trust no one
I picked up this phrase years ago from the X-Files television show, but it serves me well. In the context of beekeeping, it means that you should always question the advice you hear, especially if it doesn’t make sense to you. I’ve questioned people and been persuaded both ways. Sometimes an explanation is crystal clear and logical, and I wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” At other times, it becomes obvious that the person giving the advice has no idea what he’s talking about and is only repeating something he heard.
Resolution #5: Tap into your own knowledge
You know lots of things about the world. You know bits and pieces of math, chemistry, physics, and biology, most of which you don’t realize you know. For example, you know warm air rises, you know warm, moist air condenses on cold surfaces, you know bleach kills living things, you know light-colored things reflect heat, you know animals release CO2 and plants use it.
All these tidbits of knowledge can be used to answer many of your own questions, or at least get you started on the right track. Too many new beekeepers think “I know nothing about this.” But they should recognize that they already know many things that might apply. This is what I call common sense or horse sense. Don’t sell yourself short. If you’re still living and breathing, you have a wealth of knowledge ready to use. All you have to do is stop and think.
Scrooge, the beekeeper, wishes you a Happy New Year
I could go on and on, but I’ve decided not to include the obvious such as books and videos. What could be easier than reading a book or watching someone else manipulate the frames? What I’m suggesting is much harder and requires more self discipline, but it will get your there much faster.
Think about it. But in the meantime, enjoy a happy and safe New Year holiday.
Honey Bee Suite