July 20, 2017 by lkreslins
So, you think you want to be a beekeeper? Four springs ago, I did. I had been involved with the Philadelphia Honey Festival and teaching kids about bees and pollination at Bartram’s Garden. Officially, I wanted to experience what I’d been teaching, but truthfully it was unalloyed romanticism. I hadn’t yet fallen in love with bees, but I knew I wanted to.
Over the winter I bought supers (hive boxes) and frames, a veil and suit, and ordered bees from Georgia. From the sublime to the ridiculous, I read The Thinking Beekeeper, Langstroth’s Hive and the Honey-bee, The Beekeeper’s Handbook, Beekeeping for Dummies, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. I went to the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild winter symposium. I studied YouTube videos.
In April I picked up the box of (1) queen, mated, and (2) many workers, desperately needing to pee. I brought them to the Garden where I had everything set up and pulled out what I thought was the clearest explanation for hiving bees. Other than a distressing few minutes of wondering if I put the queen in correctly, hiving the bees was the easiest thing I did all year. It’s lovely watching them flow into the hive and hum around you, but now you have an entire year of making sure they survive.
In the interest of letting you learn from my mistakes:
Duct tape is your friend. Some overalls have strange slits so that you can access your pants pocket, despite the fact that the suit has pockets of its own. The bees will find these slits for you.
You’re going to get stung. Clay, the kind you use as a beauty mask, has been reliable for me in reducing the swelling and itching. Everyone is different in their reactions. It’s not a bad idea to mention your new calling to your doctor.
Practice lighting the smoker before you get bees. You won’t use it all the time, but, like wearing a veil, it will help you feel comfortable as a neophyte. When I’m nervous, I’m more likely to rush and make mistakes.
Hang with the girls. Just sit next to the hive and watch all the busyness of the day. At the peak of the nectar flow, the hive entrance will look like an airport.
A strong queen is essential. My own goal is to rely on locally reared queens.
Inspect the hive regularly. You’ll be in a better position to catch problems before they get out of hand. Read up on the pests and diseases that challenge bees, so you know what to look for.
Meet other beekeepers. Join a guild. Make friends with your state inspector. You’ll get contradictory, unasked for advice (rarely) and absolutely brilliant insight (often). Everyone wants you to succeed, and they’ll share all the knowledge and experience they have.
Have fun. The first time you taste honey straight from the comb is magical.
Don’t listen to me. Really. Sam Torres, the owner of Keystone Colonies and the beekeeper at Glen Foerd on the Delaware, will be at the Honey Festival this year. On September 10, at 1pm at Bartram’s Garden, he’ll present “So You Want to be Beekeeper.” Come join us!
About your author: Leslie Gale is a perishing neophyte beekeeper and has been teaching children at Bartram’s Garden for over 10 years.