Learning to be a Beekeeper

Beekeeping is not easy, nor is it cheap. It takes patience. It takes persistence. It takes a love for what you are doing and for the bees under your care. For those thinking about becoming beekeepers, I strongly recommend attending bee club meetings and bee schools. Meet local beekeepers. Ask questions – lots of them. Start learning all you can about beekeeping and honey bees before you get your first hive. Maybe even see if a local beekeeper will let you help with their bees for a year before you commit to buying your first hive.

We’re lucky in Kentucky. Kentucky has a strong network of local bee clubs scattered throughout the state. The Kentucky State Beekeepers Association has a map with the different clubs’ meeting locations and contact information. Most of the clubs meet once a month. The meetings are usually held at the county extension office, although some meet at other locations like the local library. Don’t worry about not being a member or even not having bees yet. Bee clubs are open to anyone who wants to attend. Every bee club I’ve attended has been very welcoming and the members more than willing to share their knowledge with those who want to learn.

Winter is a great time to learn about beekeeping by attending bee schools and other beekeeping workshops.

Winter is a great time to learn about beekeeping by attending bee schools and other beekeeping workshops.

Attending local beekeeping workshops or schools is also a great way to meet local beekeepers and learn about beekeeping. Many of the local bee clubs host bee schools during the winter and early spring. Bee schools are one day workshops featuring numerous classes on a variety of topics related to beekeeping. Bee schools are open to the public and often have a beginning tract of classes in addition to other general or advanced classes. The Kentucky State Beekeepers Association’s website also has information about the bee schools offered throughout the state. Check their site often because new information is posted regularly as the schedules and details for each school are finalized.

I’ve heard some people say they can learn all about beekeeping from books and the internet. They don’t need to be part of the local beekeeping community or waste their time going to beekeeping meetings or schools. I disagree. In my opinion, books are always a good place to start when learning something new. Good beekeeping books are available for beekeepers of all experience levels. However, those books aren’t a replacement for the local, been-there-done-that knowledge of more experienced beekeepers in your area.

First, many beekeeping books were written before varroa mites and other introduced pests and diseases became so widespread. What worked then, may not work now. There is still good information in those books, but you have to realize that introduced diseases and pests have forever changed the beekeeping world. More experienced, local beekeepers can help you sort through that information and guide you through the ever evolving world of post-varroa mite beekeeping.

Second, location is key in beekeeping as well as real estate. A book written by a beekeeper in Nebraska may suggest techniques that work wonderfully there, but may not work so well here. The reverse is also true. A book written by a Kentucky beekeeper may not be fully applicable to beekeepers in Nebraska. Neither book is necessarily better or worse than the other. Kentucky and Nebraska just have very different habitats and climates. Those differences mean the honey bees face different challenges in those states, thus requiring beekeepers to implement different hive management techniques. Again, more experienced local beekeepers can advise you on what works best in your specific location.

Although the internet provides instant access to all kinds of information, I don’t recommend it as a primary source for new beekeepers. There are some good beekeeping sites. There are many more bad ones. When you are just starting out, you don’t know enough to be able to recognize the crap. That’s true of anything, not just beekeeping. Again, more experienced beekeepers can point you towards some of the better, more reliable sites because it is hard to completely ignore the resources available on the internet. Just always remember the meme with Abraham Lincoln’s quote that not everything you find on the internet is true.

Like so many other things in life, beekeeping isn’t something you can learn and then check off your list of accomplishments. Good beekeepers are constantly learning from their bees and adapting their techniques. Learning to be a beekeeper is a lifelong process for as long as you have bees. Even the best beekeepers will tell you they are still learning about and from their bees. In the end, I can’t stress enough the value of being part of the local beekeeping community and having more experienced beekeepers to help and guide you through the amazing journey of learning to be a beekeeper.

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