4th of July Message to Top Bar Beekeepers…

Reader Contribution by Christy Hemenway
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Image by Helga Kattinger from Pixabay 

Hello fellow Top Bar Beekeepers

Well, here we are — it’s almost the 4th of July.  I know that all of you first year top bar beekeepers  have had some interesting experiences since becoming a beekeeper this spring, some good, some bad, all of them different — and I just thought I’d offer a few insights to you all about the way beekeeping season progresses from my point of view as a beekeeper, bee school teacher and equipment manufacturer.

In the early spring, there’s a great deal of excitement — making plans, buying equipment, going to bee school, learning everything you can, waiting for your bees.  We interact a lot — school is fun, questions are interesting, lots of anecdotes get passed around.

Then your bees come!  Everyone is SO excited, and you all go home and put your bees in their hive, then wait and worry and wonder.  You discover questions you hadn’t even thought to ask — how to do this or that, why are the bees doing x or y.  Then your bees get their bearings and start doing what bees do.  It’s fun and we all enjoy it.  You tell your friends about your new enterprise.

At that stage, it gets pretty quiet at Gold Star Global Headquarters.  I don’t hear from anybody.  Sometimes I check to see if my phone is even getting a dial tone!  Then the season progresses — to right about now, when folks have had their bees for somewhere between 4-8 weeks — and then I start to get a different set of questions.  

And what I can generally tell by the 4th of July is that everyone is a little worried.  Everyone would like a little reassurance.  Everyone would like it if I could come and inspect their bees.  Some of you even offer to pay me to come and inspect your bees.  I appreciate it that you see me as such an expert!

But I hope that I have been able to get it across that the reality of beekeeping is that bees do what bees do — they are not machines, and they are definitely not predictable.  We want to see them build a brood nest, and store honey.  We inspect them and try to keep them making their combs straight so that our top bar hive remains a “moveable comb” hive.  But other than offering them sugar syrup to supplement what nature provides, or providing a new queen, or the means to make a new queen if needed, or monitoring for mite levels — there is not much we can actually do to change the course of things happening in the hive.  Nature is in control of that process and it is for us to watch in wonder.  That means that sometimes we will see things thrive, sometimes not.

Nature is awesome and in the face of her wisdom, we often feel powerless.  I get it.  Sometimes it’s thrilling, sometimes it’s heartbreaking.  Often it makes me feel small and inadequate.

So I know how much you want that reassurance.  There are days that I want it too.  I wish I could provide it.  But as Gold Star Honeybees grows  that becomes less and less feasible.  Which is truly bittersweet for me I would love to stay personally connected to each and every one of you and see all of your bees.

But this growing is also a good thing.  Because it means that together we are building a larger community!  It’s getting more bees onto natural beeswax and into treatment-free lifestyles, and away from contaminated wax foundation and “Big Ag” style manipulations.  For most of you, that was the reason you gave for starting this journey — to keep healthier bees — for the bees, for beekeepers, and for the planet.

So I just want to remind you that what you’ve done is take a very bold, brave step.  You’ve become an iconoclast — breaking with established systems and practices that no longer make sense, and you’ve struck out and begun doing this very different thing, and I know that you sometimes feel very alone.

But all of you are Thinking Beekeepers — and I just want to repeat to you what you may have heard first at the end of a Gold Star Weekend Intensive class:

“Walk on, Beekeeper this journey matters.”

Thanks for listening.  All the Best to you and your bees.  And have a great 4th of July weekend.
 — Christy