When I first started keeping bees I was not yet a beekeeper. That may sound strange, but I really didn't know what I was doing. I was a bee-haver, meaning I had bees, but that's about it. Many beekeepers never really become beekeepers, but only remain bee-havers. They have bees, but they really don't work or manage their bees. There are many reasons why people remain bee-haves and never become beekeepers. I think one of the biggest reason is FEAR and a lack of courage. Another reason is similar, a lack of confidence. Many beekeepers simply do not feel confident in knowing what they are doing. They are afraid that their lack of knowledge will result in doing something wrong and may kill their bees.
This is why most beekeepers never raise queens. To many the place where the queen lives is mysterious and so deep within the hive, a place where no man has gone before. Every year thousands of "beginner" beekeeping courses are given around the country. These are great to help beekeepers get started, but there is rarely a follow up mentorship or advance class.
As a result most bee-havers know enough to install a package, dump expensive and unnecessary medication on their bees, watch them die in the winter and buy packages the following year only to repeat the same techniques that may have led to their bees failing the first time. We've got to break this cycle!
With a bit more education and mentorship, a bee-haver can become a beekeeper and develop a level of skill, knowledge and confidence that can catapult their beekeeping hobby to a whole new level of success. Education is key. But no matter how "book-taught" a beekeeper is, the best education is through a hands on course. As a certified master beekeeper, I enjoy taking students out into the apiary and teaching from an open hive. As soon as students can see and touch they begin to step up to a new level of comprehension.
Another way that you can build your confidence and courage in beekeeping is to catch swarms. Swarms rarely sting and always draw an audience. It builds your confidence to retrieve a swarm and place it into your bee yard.
Once people hear that you keep bees, they will be calling you asking you to remove a swarm. Every beekeeper should have an extra, empty hive to capture swarms. You can catch them and keep them as a new hive.
This extra hive will build your confidence know that you have extra equipment should you want to raise an extra queen or keep a smaller hive going or to support an observation hive. Lots of uses. During the month of May, many beekeepers call us and want us to rush a hive to them because they found a swarm. But, by time the hive arrives the swarm has left. So have one on hand! It is worth the investment. It will nearly pay for itself in one swarm catch because you save the cost of a package of bees. It will build your confidence if you are not lacking essential equipment.
Finally, stay open minded and learn as much as you can about beekeeping. The more knowledge you have the less fearful you'll be. Join a local bee class in your area or attend beekeeping conventions and meetings.
David Burns, EAS certified Master Beekeeper
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
Photos by David Burns