The A, Bee, C’s of Beekeeping
This is my seventeenth year of beekeeping and despite being very thick, time and experience does teach you a thing or two about whatever discipline one may take up. Initially, I started beekeeping to pollinate my small orchard; within the first season I quickly found out that bees make the choices as to what and where to pollinate. As a result, very few of my bees are ever within my own orchard whether in that first year or still today. Though it took a couple of seasons, in the end, I realized that I put the cart before the horse, so to speak, as I looked to the bees for care of my orchard when I should have been primarily intent on the hives and bees. In other words, beekeeping should not be a by-product of some other project, but a project in itself.
The number one mistake of the novice backyard beekeeper is to treat beekeeping as a hobby. Due to this, most novices regard beekeeping as a pastime relying too much on primers, books and videos which are necessarily too general in nature in order to concisely convey the most information possible. Yes, they can be helpful for the overall concepts they illustrate, but very few of these presentations emphasize that your apiary is unique, despite the many generalizations. To illustrate, almost all books, articles’, etc. say to feed bees sugar solution in the late winter / early spring, and then once again in fall, which is correct, however, when you’ve had two, three, four or more days of rain i the middle of the season at your apiary it is likely that the bees are resorting their stores because the foraging bees cannot get out of the hive to forage. It is obvious that the application of the information presented in the myriad of books and videos must be based on your own correct observations and the conclusions drawn from said observations. It goes without saying that your conclusions must be valid based on experience; and experience comes over time and attainment of knowledge of your own bees. It is said that: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and this is so because knowledge MUST be tempered by experience. Additionally, since very few are being taught logic and reason these days, they simply parrot the information that they have gleaned from their sources without ever discerning what is logically correct or rational, but are merely the writer’s feelings, for better or worse.
In my own case, I did the prerequisite reading and research, consulted local bee clubs, sought out the experts for one-on-one, face-to-face talks, seminars and the like. Even going so far as to tour the expert’s hives and perform inspections to diagnose each situation, draw conclusions, and find the resolution to any evident problems. However, (and this is the second mistake for novices), the most profitable approach is to invite the expert to your hives to point out potential and present flaws and problems that may be currently occurring or will be occurring in future based on the condition of the hive at the moment. Such Monday morning quarter-backing is, of course, experience; had I the opportunity to do it over again, or to teach a newbie beekeeping this is what I would do now.
To be sure, books, videos, conferences are necessary, most especially for the beginner, but application of the knowledge imparted must be tempered over time by personal experience of your very own hives most especially with a mentor. The uniqueness of your apiary and even individual hives within the apiary is mandated by the micro-climate of the area or region, your own mini-micro climate, the placement of your hives, the species of honeybees, the existence of any pests or disease, and any number of other factors. An experienced mentor would take scope of the entire situation and evaluate your problems and your needs, often without even opening one hive: but here is the rub… finding an experienced mentor! Many beekeepers are full of themselves and where one will say one thing another will say the opposite. Many are in it for making money from selling books or attaining conference fees. To discern the best mentor is a problem, but I would say the first thing is to find an experienced that is not in it for the money but strictly for the love of bees and beekeeping. So choose wisely, otherwise you will learn nothing and just be spinning your wheels.
So, with all the above said don’t get the wrong idea that beekeeping is time consuming, it is not. For a few hours a month, it can be a most rewarding experience, both in the practical sense as well as in the esoteric sense. A veteran beekeeper once told me that you cannot be a beekeeper and not know there is a God; as in any other endeavor where your get your hands down into the soil, it is easy to discern God’s presence. Therefore, I encourage all who are contemplating beekeeping to do so, but be sure to secure a competent mentor to take you by the hand and inspect your hives.
Meantime, continue to have recourse to Our Blessed Mother through her daily Rosary. In between one should also recite the Jesus Prayer, it is a simple but powerful ejaculation that can be said throughout the day while simultaneously involved in other daily tasks.
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.