How to Bee-come a Beekeeper

1There has been a lot of buzz about the honey bee lately. People are often captivated and amazed by the small insects officially labeled a “super-organism.” The intricacies of their lives, the efficiency and precision with which they work, and the uncanny intuition of their actions, can make us truly appreciate the power of nature. Honeybees provide an indispensable service to our ecosystem. They pollinate the crops that we eat, making sure that all flowering plants from apple trees to squash can reproduce and bear fruit. The honeybees, and other pollinators, are entangled in a symbiotic relationship with the plants, the plants depend on them for reproduction, and the bees depend on the plants as a sole food source. It is quite a beautiful relationship.

The recent hubbub about bees however takes a more somber tone. Bees around the world are struggling. The condition commonly referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is killing off about a third of the bee population annually. Scientists and beekeepers are working together to find the root cause of this condition, and surprisingly there is no specific problem that can be identified. Rather, there are a multitude of factors that, combined together, create a seriously adverse environment for bees. Habitat loss, pesticide and herbicide use, invasive bacteria and pests, alongside more extreme weather create the perfect storm for the honey bee.

Instead of writing a blog about all the problems bees are facing, I decided not to dwell on all the negative information out there, but rather see what I could do to help our local bees. I attended a beekeeping demonstration, and the beekeeper leading the seminar said that the best thing to do for the bees was to get involved with them, learn about them, and give them a voice. It was then that I realized I should help the bees in the most hands on way possible… By Bee-Coming a Beekeeper!

2The first step that I had to take on my journey towards keeping bees was to educate myself and get connected to the community. I checked out the informative and eloquent book “Top Bar Beekeeping” written by the local beekeeping legend Les Crowder, who keeps about 150 hives in Northern New Mexico. The book was a great jumping off point, filled with vital and concise information alongside poetic and inspiring stories.

Albuquerque has a thriving and active beekeeping community. I found the website that connects them all called ABQBEEKS.ORG, and from there learned that there was a monthly meeting. If you are a beginning beekeeper, ABQ BEEKS will be your best resource for involvement. At this point I was well on my way to completing my first step, and I was going to the meeting prepared to take step two: finding a mentor.

The first time I attended an ABQ BEEKS monthly meeting, I walked into a room filled with more than a hundred people talking amongst themselves and having a good time. After a couple interesting lectures and demonstrations there was some time to meet and talk. Within minutes I had found myself the mentor I had been looking for, someone who was willing to show me the do’s and don’ts with beekeeping, and someone who could give me the fundamental knowledge to set me on my feet.

3

The author observing some honeycomb

Because bees are for the most part dormant over winter, my new mentor invited me to observe him open his hive for the first time in spring. This is an anxious moment for all beekeepers, as they get to see how (and if) the hive has survived over Winter. Over several Sunday meetings, I learned the basics hands-on, and gained a more intimate understanding of the nuances of keeping bees. No doubt, beekeeping is an art, but the basics are easy enough to grasp and really quite intuitive. There are however many options in the style of beekeeping you choose to practice. Here came the third step towards my beekeeping goal: Getting equipment and choosing a hive.

The type of hive you choose will determine what style of beekeeping you will practice. The two most popular hives are the Langstroth and the Top-Bar hives. Though the hive types differ immensely, they are both great ways of keeping bees, and each has pros and cons. I chose a Top-Bar hive because it was the preference of my mentor. Beyond the hive, the only equipment you will need is a hive tool (knife), a smoker, and a veil (to protect you from any bees that get a bit angry).

The two types of hives: Langstroth to the left, and Top-Bar to the right

The two types of hives: Langstroth to the left, and Top-Bar to the right

After all of the equipment is gathered, there is only one final step – getting bees!!! Finding bees in the Albuquerque area is relatively simple, as long as you have one of two things: money or patience. If you have a bit of spare cash lying around, you can buy packages of bees online or from local sellers for about $120-150. If you don’t have the cash, getting bees is still possible! The ABQBEEKS.ORG website has a swarm list, where you can wait to get a group of errant/wild bees that a beekeeper has removed from somebody’s yard, wall, or garden.

Beekeeping is unbelievably rewarding and surprisingly accessible. As outlined above, it is super easy to get engaged and involved with your local super-organisms! If you have an interest please don’t be intimidated. I can act as the example of how someone with a mere interest in bees can become an active beekeeper in only a couple months. Go out there and save the bees!

-Posted by Sean Paul

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