The need for continued beekeeping education cannot be over stressed. I always tell those interested in beekeeping that taking care of honey bees is an entirely different type of animal husbandry. If we really think about it -really think about it – keeping an insect as a domesticated animal – though they are not actually domesticated – is downright strange.
Other livestock, such as horses, cows, goats, and pigs, are mammals. With mammals, we can look for some of the same symptoms that we look for in ourselves or our children when ill. For example, I have an old dog who is always underfoot in our house. Even though she can’t speak to tell me when something is wrong, her behavior communicates a great deal. Does she have a good appetite, or is she suddenly leaving food in her bowl? Is she active (at least as active as a 17 year old dog can be), or does she seem uninterested when I say the magic word? (The magic word is outside.) My wife thinks it’s gross, but I note her bowel movements. Do the feces look normal? These symptomatic behaviors strike a familiar chord.
But the nature of social insects like honey bees is so alien to us, representing a different order, class, and phylum, that we have no instinctive empathy with the rhythm of their lives. While we can learn to recognize symptoms of disease and pest infestations in the hive, we first need to learn to recognize what is normal. That in itself is a big learning curve. We have to educate ourselves to look for indications like the presence of brood, which tells us that the queen is, or was quite recently, present. We must learn what normal larvae and capped brood look like so we will recognize the signs of brood disease when they occur. We need to know how many bees to expect in a hive at different times of the year. A colony in May with less than a deep full of bees indicates a problem, but at other times is nothing to worry about. In addition, we keep being confronted with new problems, or presented with new ways to manage old problems, which make beekeeping a continual learning process. I am learning new things all the time from reading and from contacts with beekeepers, apiarists, and researchers, and try to pass them on.
We can all learn from books, magazines (all beekeepers should subscribe to one of the beekeeping magazines) and from online sources. But nothing can replace hands on learning in the apiary. Beekeepers tell me some of the best education they received from me came in front of an open hive. That is where local and state beekeeping associations are important. Many of these groups, in addition to providing instruction at their meetings, offer classes in the bee yard. Local association meetings are also an excellent place to meet other beekeepers and perhaps find someone more experienced to learn from one on one. Some groups have, and I wish more had, organized mentoring programs to connect veteran beekeepers with beginners.
On the other hand, some information is best learned in a classroom environment. This time of year, regional and statewide beekeeping schools are being held in most states. These winter/early spring schools are one day or, occasionally, two day affairs, typically held all day on a Saturday. They have multiple breakout sessions and a variety of subjects. Most of these schools offer beginner tracks for those new to beekeeping. Some offer queen rearing mini-courses for more experienced beekeepers, and some feature well known national beekeeping researchers and authorities as speakers. There is information available for beekeepers at every level. Many also invite vendors to be present, which enables attendees to save shipping costs by buying supplies at the schools. Perhaps best of all, you have an opportunity to meet other beekeepers from the region and exchange ideas. I urge everyone to consider attending a beekeeping school this winter.
While I want you to visit this webpage and email me questions, I would really like to see you at a bee school this winter! I’ll be attending several.
“The doctors X-rayed my head and found nothing” – Dizzy Dean