Field Guide to Beekeeping

July 2014

 Informational Resources for Beekeepers

by Jamie Ellis

(excerpt)

There appears to be a growing interest in beekeeping in the U.S. Many people are getting into beekeeping as a hobby and livelihood. To give an example close to home, there were about 900 – 1,100 beekeepers in Florida when I began working at the University of Florida in 2006. Now, there are over 3,500 beekeepers. Of course, this does not account for the number of people who keep bees “off the grid” in Florida, but it does illustrate the point that more people are diving into this fascinating endeavor, perhaps more people than ever have.

Beekeeping is addictive. Bee fever is contagious. I have known so many budding beekeepers who jump into this hobby with little planning or consideration because of the craft’s ability to capture its practitioners. There is a lot more to beekeeping than simply having a hive of bees from which you can harvest honey any time you want. One must have skill, knowledge, persistence, and a little luck to succeed at this craft. 

Beekeeping is not easy. New beekeepers have to learn an entire new vocabulary, work with new tools, and become expert woodworkers, veterinarians, horticulturists, enterprising CEOs, marketers, biologists, and food safety workers. On top of that, beekeepers work with insects that most of the rest of the general public fear so much that they will drive off the road trying to get a trapped bee out of their car. I share all of this to ask a simple question: why would anyone get into this hobby/profession without being prepared or having a robust support network from which one can get help/advice? Yet, people do all the time. It is not uncommon for me to see people purchasing 50 colonies, without ever even working one before.

Do not hear me wrong; I want people to get into beekeeping. I love keeping bees. My involvement with bees has brought me considerable personal and professional satisfaction. However, I feel that it is important for all beekeepers, new-bees and experienced beekeepers alike, to be aware of the resources available to them so that they can maximize their beekeeping experience. It is with this goal in mind that I pen the following information.

The purpose of this article is to provide a single source that can serve as a reference of resources for beekeepers. I list many of the types of resources available to beekeepers. I give some specific examples of each type of resource I discuss. My list of examples is not exhaustive. I apologize sincerely if I fail to mention a resource about which you are aware and use regularly. In fact, please let me know via email if my list is incomplete.  I welcome the opportunity to expand the list.

A final precautionary note: please consider all information you read and hear about bees critically. I know of too many people who are taught erroneous information, never to let the information go. Hold your beekeeping conclusions lightly. Doing so may keep you from looking foolish.☺

People and Organizational Resources:
(1) Mentors: It should be no wonder why I list mentors first. I consider mentors (other beekeepers) to be the best resource available to any beekeeper. Even lifelong, commercial beekeepers contact one another for ideas, the latest news on bees, to borrow equipment, to request help, etc. I think all beekeepers should have a mentor. Many, likely most, beekeepers get into beekeeping in the first place because they have (had) a mentor. My mentor’s name was Joseph Miller and he spent time with me, teaching me how to work a colony, answering my questions, and just being available for help. He loaned me bee books, provided queen cells when my colonies were queenless, and had spare equipment on hand when I needed some. I found him to be an indispensable resource for me as I stumbled through my early years as a beekeeper. Like bees, and despite our individual personalities and nature, humans are made to be social. You will enjoy the beekeeping experience a lot more if you find someone who is willing to lead you and learn with you.

(2) Bee clubs (local, state, regional, national, international): Like the bees they study, beekeepers are remarkably well organized into a network of groups, clubs, etc. Bee clubs are groups of beekeepers who gather to discuss the latest issues, help one another with their beekeeping efforts, and generally promote the craft.
A – Local bee clubs – These are usually distributed within a state and can be found by looking up ones state organization online and visiting the “local clubs” information pages. Most beekeepers in the U.S. are likely within 1-3 hours of a local bee club. Most local bee clubs meet monthly or every other month. They often offer short courses and other training events. Another strength of local clubs is that the members can band together to purchase equipment that otherwise is difficult for a single beekeeper to purchase. For example, a local club may purchase an extractor and make it available for use to all of the members. Local clubs are a tremendous resource to all beekeepers. I highly recommend joining a local bee club if one is available in your area.
B – State bee clubs – Almost all states in the U.S. have a state-level beekeeping organization. Some even have two. State clubs perform many of the same functions as a local club, just at the state level. They often meet 1 – 2 times per year, with their meetings featuring notable beekeepers, bee scientists, and other speakers from around the state, country, and globe. State clubs can influence bee policy adopted at the state level. For example, they can lobby the state government to pass laws that benefit beekeepers and beekeeping. They can offer research grants, provide training, etc. I also think beekeepers should be members of their state beekeeping organizations.
C – Regional bee clubs – There are three “regional” beekeeping organizations in the U.S. They are (1) the Eastern Apicultural Society (http://www.easternapiculture.org/), (2) the Heartland Apicultural Society (http://www.heartlandbees.org/), and (3) the Western Apicultural Society (http://ucanr.edu/sites/was2/). These groups represent their respective regions in the U.S., often offering similar beekeeping opportunities offered by state clubs, though on a much larger scale.
D – National bee clubs – Many of the world’s countries have national beekeeping organizations. There are two major national groups in the U.S. that beekeepers should know and use as a resource. These are (1) the American Beekeeping Federation (http://www.abfnet.org/) and (2) American Honey Producers Association (http://www.ahpanet.com/). Both groups produce a tremendous amount of resources for beekeepers and represent beekeeper interests at the national level. They meet yearly and offer stellar programs and services. I will note that other countries often have their own bee clubs, so it is worth investigating other countries’ national organizations by doing some targeted internet searches for the clubs.
E – International bee clubs – As you might expect, there are international clubs of note. The most relevant for beekeepers is likely Apimondia (http://www.apimondia.org/) which bills itself as the “international federation of beekeepers’ organizations and other organizations working within the apiculture sector.” It is similar in function/purpose to other large beekeeper groups. Apimonida sponsors a major international meeting every other year, with countries from around the world vying to host the event. I have enjoyed attending Apimondia meetings. It is a great group with which to be affiliated, especially if international beekeeping is of interest to you, or if you like to travel to cool and interesting places.

(3) University Researchers: In the late 1800s, the federal government deeded land to each state that, in turn, used the land to create and endow land grant institutions or universities. Many, though not all, of these institutions became the large, public colleges in each state. For example, they include the University of Florida (where I work), University of Georgia, The Pennsylvania State University, The Ohio State University, University of California, Purdue University, etc. These universities were charged with the responsibility to teach, among other things, practical agriculture, science, etc. This teaching would not only ....