There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance. --- Henry David Thoreau

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best -- " and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do,
there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. -- The House at Pooh Corner

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Cut to the Chase ...

If you need to get started real quick, this section will give you tips and guidance on the things you need to do, in the order you need to do them. It's written from a "know it all" point of view, which will prolly get me in trouble with about a hundred expert, experienced beekeepers - curmudgeons all - who are damn sure they know better! If you've been wandering around the web, hoping those experts will welcome you in and give you some good mentoring, you've discovered the one thing they don't know better however, (because they've forgotten it) is how to be nice and helpful to a novice beek who is floundering around and just looking for some concrete straight answers. Many of 'em couldn't care less about how it feels when you can't find out a damn thing from them that's straightforward, not condescending, and actually helpful in getting started. That's where this "Know-it-all" becomes your expert. I've just been through all that. It's fresh in my memory.

Do this:

Go through the list of links.
If you wade through all that stuff, you're probably going to be forearmed with enough knowledge to get you started really really well. Don't try to absorb it all. It takes a few years to get the ... um ... "Big Picture".

yourself a box. It doesn't matter what kind of hive you choose first off! It's what you do with the box and inside the box that matters. You're gonna change your mind a dozen times about everything, but the box you have will guide you and teach you better than a bunch of know-it-alls. You're gonna make mistakes, but they'll be your mistakes to own; and those lessons will be more important and more valuable to you than anything else in the months ahead.

If you like Top Bar Hives, get one! If you think Warrés are perfect, build one! If you inherited a Langstroth, it'll do just fine! Don't worry about choosing the one right hive. There is no such thing.

If you are trying to decide how many hives to start with, don't start with a single hive. Start with two. Just do.

Get some bees. The most common way to do this is to catch a swarm -- and it isn't all that hard to do. You'll probably start beekeeping just a little bit later in the season if you rely upon swarms, and you'll be that much more impatient. But it's a good start you'll be making. Local feral bees are acclimatized and better for your garden. Buying package bees is also an option. Usually your supplier will have them available at exactly the right moment in the season to get started. If you find an experienced beekeeper near you, you can buy a "Nuc" -- a couple of frames of brood and a queen, or maybe a populated hive all ready to go. Nothing wrong with that. You do not need to start at square one. (You'll have ample opportunities to start at Square One later on, trust me.)

Don't be overly concerned with what breed of bees to keep. Dark little secret they won't cop to: There are no 'pure' strains of any breed of bees anymore that you can acquire as a newbeek, only hybrids. It's not like dog breeding --there are only bees that are more or less like the strain of bee they appear to be. Consequently they behave only more or less like the bees they are purported to be. Anyone who tells you he's got pure Italians or pure Carnies or pure anything else simply doesn't know what he's talking about. [note: except for a handful of very esoteric bee breeders] Don't worry about what kind of bees you've got -- you'll know why after the first season. Relax. Just get some bees.

Don't put anything in your hive but bees! No poisons, chemicals, dopes, powdered sugar, herbal holistic concoctions, Co-operative Extension recommended 'treatments', or anything else. The bees know what they need. Don't sidetrack 'em; or make it harder for them; or make them weaker with some gawdawful crap some know-it-all told you you must use. Be an organic, natural beek. This is contrary to what your most successful know-it-alls will rant at you , they'll even get mad and demand you medicate your insects.  They will scream that you are raising diseased bees or that your bees will die from Varroa or zombies or something. Just smile. Go do your thing. (eventually you'll get familiar with the true scenarios of bee health and disease, then you can make your own decisions.)

Get some books. You'll be wondering just which book should be your chief guide or 'bible' as you start out. As a Newbeek, you'll always have that question,"What one book should I buy?" There are several that are helpful: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping. So far the best starter book to advise you about organic, natural beekeeping; The Hive and the Honey Bee - The standard textbook on beekeeping with 'standard equipment'; a big thick volume full of everything bee. Find an inexpensive used copy and keep it on your bookshelf; The Barefoot Beekeeper --Top Bar Beekeeping at its best. A lot about the philosophy you need to cultivate. Also, David Heaf, another Brit beekeeper, is most excellent on the better, more natural beekeeping ways with his The Bee-friendly Beekeeper, a sustainable approach.

Take them all with a grain of salt, but pay attention to what they're telling you. Any one of those I just listed will get you by. There are absolutely some crappy books out there too. By the time you've gotten through combing all the links provided for you here, you'll be able to critically detect the crappy ones. No worries.

Join your local Beekeeper's Association.
Keep your ears open, and your mouth shut. Take advantage of all the mentors have to teach. Don't worry if you decide to do stuff differently from 90% of the experienced members. The majority of them haven't gotten the word about how to 'save the bees' and avoid old school thinking yet. Mostly, they're still trapped in commercial, factory-farm bee mode. They're CCD-philic . Learn what you can (there's lots they can teach you.) Then go home and do things your way.

Join the better bee forums.
This is where you get to fill in the gaps in your knowledge, ask stupid questions, and become acquainted with all those curmudgeon know-it-all experienced beeks. They have LOTS to teach you. Here's some places you should be, and why:
Feral Bee Project -- How to preserve the feral and untreated survivor honeybee colonies. Be careful with these guys, too, if you're a newbeek.
Backyard Beekeeping - your basic hobby beekeeping discussion.
Warrebeekeeping - bee-friendly, sustainable beekeeping based on the hive of Abbé Emile Warré. This is where the best Beeks post. (By the way, an excellent summary of how to begin Warré beekeeping can be found at this link. It has lots of links to more detailed information, too!)

In a week or two you will discover that if you put three beekeepers in a website together you'll get a dozen opinions about each and every tiny detail of beekeeping. (It helps to remember that in reality there is always more than one way to skin a cat. pssst ... don't tell them that, though.)

Ask questions. Email me or somebody else you like. We'll try to get you good answers.

Finally, Read this blog link for excellent advice for a more traditional approach to getting started. (This is probably the kind of "How To" post some of you were looking for anyway.)



  1. Excellent. My sentiments, (almost) exactly. : D

  2. Tom, great to come across a kindred spirit. I shall be watching your blog with great interest.