I consider, reconsider, and prep for a new hobby.
I don’t know exactly when I started thinking seriously about keeping bees as a hobby. I know it was within the past few months, but if I had to give you an exact date, I’d come up empty.
I think it started as a tiny germ of an idea, like a speck of pollen clinging to a bee’s wing as it buzzes around, going about its business. Somewhere along the line it was noticed and moved to a place where it could be closely examined and considered. I immediately realized that I needed more information to make a decision one way or the other and I got to work gathering that information.
Doing My Homework
I started by querying my friend Tom, who has been keeping bees for some time now in Vermont. He has nothing but good things to say about beekeeping and I was very encouraged. He gave me a few details, but it all went over my head. I didn’t know enough. Yet.
I bought a book — as I usually do when I want to learn something. I chose The Complete Step-by-Step Book of Beekeeping by David Cramp. It’s a nicely illustrated, hardcover book that covers all the basics of beekeeping, written in a way that folks who know nothing about it can quickly grasp. It was published in the U.K., so it has more information about beekeeping in Europe than I’d find in a U.S. published book. It didn’t go into much depth on any topic, however. This might be because of constraints related to the spread-based presentation of the material — each topic had to be covered on one 2-page book spread. (This is something you notice when you’ve worked in publishing long enough.) But, in general, I highly recommend it to anyone who is clueless and curious about beekeeping — as I was.
I also rented NOVA: Bees – Tales from the Hive from Netflix. This video offers some amazing footage that clearly shows some of the more interesting aspects of bee life. I admit that I fell asleep halfway through it — I really can’t watch TV late in the evening anymore — but I fired it back up early the next day and watched the part I’d missed. I recommend this, even if just for the quality of the footage. NOVA documentaries are usually very good and this was no exception.
If that wasn’t enough, I bought and sat through (in two sessions again) Natural Beekeeping with Ross Conrad on DVD. This is an incredibly long video that isn’t particularly well-produced. It jumps from video footage of Mr. Conrad lecturing in a classroom about bees with very few visual aids to video footage of Mr. Conrad talking to the camera out in the field while showing off a few things. I wouldn’t recommend this video at all if it weren’t for the fact that it is jam-packed with detailed beginner, intermediate, and advanced information about keeping bees. If he could redo this video to show more than tell — and organize it into real chapters or segments on the DVD — he’d have a real winner.
Because I liked the Storey Guide series book about raising chickens, I figured I’d try Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees. I bought the Kindle edition so I could read it on my iPad and annotate it. I admit I was a bit disappointed. The book didn’t translate well to the Kindle format; illustrations and tables simply did not appear right. Sometimes paper really is better.
By this point, I’d pretty much decided that I wanted to move forward and give beekeeping a try. So I bought one more book, this one to use for general reference: The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses by Richard A Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch. This 416-page hardcover book covers pretty much every aspect of bees and beekeeping. I’m certain I’ll turn to it again and again to learn as I work with my bees.
Join the Club
Of course, homework wasn’t limited to books and videos. I also wanted to meet with other local beekeepers — if I could find them.
So I asked all-knowing Google and, of course, Google gave me an answer: The North Central Washington Beekeepers Association (NCWBA) on Facebook. I “Liked” the page so I’d get updates.
I also posted a comment introducing myself and asking other members if I could see their beehives:
I am very interested in getting started with this as a hobby soon. Is anyone in the Quincy or Wenatchee area interested in showing a complete newbie their setup and giving her some pointers? I’ll buy lunch afterward. Let me know.
I almost immediately got a response that included an invitation to see a member’s apiary in North Wenatchee. The next day, I was pulling up to a complete stranger’s house on the edge of town and knocking on their door. I met Kriss and Jim, who escorted me out to their incredibly huge backyard to see Jim’s two hives. We chatted for a while about bees, took a walk in their yard, and checked out Jim’s honey extractor. They suggested I go to YouTube and watch videos by FatBeeMan. I left feeling glad that such nice people shared the same hobby so close to where I’d soon be living.
The NCWBA meets twice a month: once for an informal “chat” at an area restaurant and once for a formal association meeting in a hotel conference room. I was unable to attend the next chat, but I was able to go to the formal meeting. I met a bunch of great people and told them about my situation — that I wanted to get started with bees but didn’t have a place to put my hives yet. Soon, I told them, I’d close on a 10-acre parcel in Malaga. They talked about hive conditions now and what each beekeeper should be expecting. They talked about needing a webmaster for their website. (No, I didn’t volunteer. I have enough on my plate right now.) They talked about their involvement in the Chelan County Fair in September. (Can anyone lend them a mannequin with a head so they can dress it in a bee suit, hat, and veil?) And they talked about swarm season; I gave out my phone number and asked to be called if they went after a swarm so I could watch and/or help.
At the end of the meeting, Kriss and Jim offered to let me put my hive in their backyard so I could get started with my bees before the season is too far gone. We’d move the hive when I closed on my land. I accepted their very generous offer and started thinking about ordering my hive.
Another Friend with Bees
The following Tuesday, I was in Auburn, WA, picking up my sad little jet boat, which was in storage at my friend Don’s house. Don offered to take me to late breakfast at the Puyallap Airport. That meant flying over in his helicopter. He pulled it out of his hangar and preflighted it and we climbed aboard. While it was warming up, I told him I’d decided to keep bees. I then immediately suggested he and his wife might like to do the same — they’d make a good match for their goats and llama and chickens.
“We already have bees,” he replied.
I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know he had bees. We talked about them at breakfast. He told me that there was a woman nearby who did seminars and sold beekeeping equipment. Her place was closed just one day a week: Tuesday. Just my luck.
When we got back to his house, he showed me his two bee hives. He told me that they’d had one hive the previous year and that the bees had been killed by mites over the winter. He showed me the mite screen they’d just installed.
Two white molded plastic chairs were positioned in front of the hives, about five feet away, facing them. “Do you sit here?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “It’s kind of fun to watch them come and go.”
I told him I was going to pick his brain about bees when I had questions. He didn’t seem to mind at all.
Prepped with Information
That was on May 21, less than a month after receiving that first bee book in the mail from Amazon.com.
At that point, I fully understood about 90% of what my beekeeping friends — both old and new — were talking about. Only a month before, I didn’t know much about bees other than that they lived in hives, had a queen, and made honey. Within a month, I’d learned the terminology and understood more than just the basics. I could communicate with others to ask questions and understand the answers. My homework — with books — had really jump-started my knowledge base.
It was time to make equipment purchase decisions. But I’ll save that for another post.