Bees, Please

I consider, reconsider, and prep for a new hobby.

I started my beekeeping hobby in June 2013 and have been blogging about it periodically. If you’re interested in reading the other posts in this series, follow the Adventures in Beekeeping tag. Keep in mind that the most recent posts always appear first on this blog.

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.

Beekeeping BookI 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.

Tales from the HiveI 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.

Natural BeekeepingIf 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.

Storey's Keeping BeesBecause 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.

Beekeeper BibleBy 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.

11 thoughts on “Bees, Please

  1. Go for it Maria!. Keeping bees was Lee’s main hobby for many years. Began with one hive but just couldn’t pass up a swarm and we soon had 33 hives, When the inspector came he was impressed with Lee’s hand-built “cabinet quality” hives. When Lee had prostate surgery and couldn’t lift the hives any longer, plus I’d been watching bees go in and out of one hive, got stung between the eyes, and had a bad reaction, he advertised all his equipment. One poor guy came to buy ONE hive and was given all 33! It is a very rewarding hobby, especially at extraction time. I’d recommend having an epipen on you at all times because I’d been stung many times with no reaction. Went thru 7 years of allergy shots when we moved to AZ.

    • 33 hives! Wow! I didn’t know Lee kept bees at all! What did you do with all that honey?

      Good advice about the epipen. I’ll talk to my doctor about it; I’ll be seeing her later in the week about other things. I’ll put it in my beekeeping kit so it’s handy any time I deal with the bees. I’ve been stung before — on my eyelid once! — and although I didn’t have a terrible reaction, there was a lot of swelling. But our bodies change and who can say I’m not allergic now?

  2. Loved reading about how the beginning of your adventure is unfolding. It’s truly amazing how many people can come into our lives at just the right moments like this, too. Incredible stuff.

    Sounds like it’s going to be fabulous and with lots of other beekeepers to share information with and chat about this fun adventure.

    I’m excited for you!

    • People come into our lives when we get out among people. In my old life, I often felt caged, with no social outlets that didn’t include my husband. I’ve always felt free in Washington and I felt much freer in Arizona once he was gone. I’ve met dozens of new people in the past year — people I’ve done all kinds of things with, from dining out to hiking to wine-tasting to learning about bees.

      I’m really excited about this hobby; hope to get the hive set up and bees installed today.

  3. Yes, I’ve seen that unfold for you as well, with meeting new people, doing more… it’s wonderful to see.

    And yes, you now have freedom to do whatever you wish like that. Too bad that wasn’t so possible while you were married.

    When I was married, I could rarely make my own plans. My entire schedule was based on his schedule. I gave up all my hobbies, all the things I’d previously enjoyed so much. I look back on that and other things and can’t believe I actually went along with all that. Never again, that’s for sure. I have to be me.

    Kind of embarrassing to look back and see that, but lots of counseling helped me understand the reasons. I learned many hugely valuable lessons. I’ll never give up who I am again. Never.

    • I usually felt as if I had to sacrifice my time for him, especially after I moved with him to the Phoenix condo during the week. I absolutely hated it there. Dark, noisy, claustrophobic. No privacy. Dog had to be walked on a leash with few opportunities to run or play. The only benefit was the proximity of restaurants and entertainment. But what fun is that when you’re always going with the same two people — normally him or him and his old roommate? He laid the guilt on thick, making me feel bad about wanting to be away in Washington where I had friends and a good business and a fun life. Like you, I can’t believe I put up with it. But I was waiting for HIM to snap out of his malaise and dig himself out of his rut. I didn’t realize that he expected me to descend into it with him. Now he’s got someone else who will hold his hand while he’s down there, zoning out in front of the TV every night and letting his life waste away. Good riddance!

  4. Yes indeed, Maria. Very different lifestyles.

    In my marriage, it was such a mix for me of having to go along with his schedule and whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. I couldn’t make my own plans or schedule things for myself. Also, he had such a tough time when I got invited to baby showers or other things with friends. I don’t think he could stand being alone at all, even with our young kids.

    OTOH, he was quite supportive of me quitting my job and going to graduate school for my master’s degree in piano performance. He even bought me a grand piano, encouraged and supported trips to Vienna and Europe to study piano with the greats…

    Such a mix of stuff, ya know? Some things were really nice like my 2nd paragraph, and yet other things were so tough and ridiculous. Well, he probably says that about me, too. LOL

    Bottom line for me: toxic relationship. We were both so young when we met and started dating – I was only 19, and he was 21. I had so, so much to learn and lots of maturing and growing up to do. The decisions I made then and things I did are not things at all that I would decide or do now… but as you know, I’m in my late 50s now… so hopefully I would have learned a lot over the years!

    The fact that I’ve never regretted our divorce says a lot. I do regret what it did to our kids and I still feel tremendous guilt about that to this day… even though I also know that staying married would have been even worse for them.

    All in all, we must be able to be who we are and surround ourselves with people who encourage that, who appreciate that… and vice versa, of course.

    • Although we helped each other with various endeavors, he was a lot more likely to try to talk me out of something than to actively support me. He tried to talk me out of buying my investment properties, buying my first helicopter, and buying my second helicopter. Near the end of our relationship, I stopped asking his advice because I knew he’d just shoot me down.

      I realize now that he was jealous of my success and my ability to achieve goals — more on that in a blog post today. He failed at so many things, primarily because he didn’t try hard enough, and he didn’t want to see me succeed any more. So he tried to prevent me from even trying. He wanted me stuck in the same rut he was in.

      We also got together when we were young. I now wish that we’d parted ways when I wanted to move to Arizona. He apparently thinks that his move with me — which he certainly seemed to like at the time — held him back. I wish he would have stayed in New York where he belongs.

  5. I’m interested to follow your beekeeping journey. We’re looking into it here in New Zealand but what’s putting me off is that you have to buy a license for each hive, required by the government so they can track varroa, I think. Also there’s a toxic mite associated with a native plant (that we have on our property) that apparently can poison honey and make it deadly. You can get your honey tested, but that’s another $100+ per test. So we’re waiting to learn a bit more before we start pouring money into equipment and hives. We’ll probably join the Wellington beekeeping association first, as you’ve done. Good luck–you’re moving quickly on all fronts!

    • Never even thought about licensing. Interesting info about New Zealand, Roslyn.

      I can see potentially needing a business license and something official to be allowed to sell the honey, etc. regarding US laws. But I haven’t heard anything about licensing for just owning hives from Maria yet.

      Maria, you haven’t mentioned anything about licensing, legalities, the “biz” side of this yet. I know at this point you’re just planning this as a hobby. Will any legal stuff be potentially needed, you haven’t gotten that far yet?

    • Inspections and registration might be required, but I don’t know anything about fees yet. I’ll have to ask around. I do know that varroa is an issue here, but there are ways to control it. Don’t know anything about poisoned honey; hope that’s limited to NZ.

What do you think?