One aspect of beekeeping that is attractive for many is that the learning never stops. A great deal of information is available to you online and that content is ever expanding.
But any online content is really just there to kick-start and augment what you actually learn from your bees. Each of your beehives, whether your first or your hundredth, will have its nuances and occasionally send you the proverbial curve ball.
Sometimes these are minor things that you have never seen before and are simply a curiosity. An example might be the colony that decides to create comb outside and underneath the hive. It's rare, but it can happen.
At the other extreme are catastrophic events that could wipe out a hive or even more. Whatever the situation and no matter how dire, there is an opportunity to learn.
Much of what you learn about beekeeping is local. This isn't simply a statement of geographic location. Even within a single garden, beekeepers can experience quite different things with their bees.
One of the best answers to this quest for knowledge in an ever-changing environment comes in the form of beekeeping clubs and mentors.
With any pastime or hobby, it's very common for like-minded folks to come together. Beekeeping is no different and there are a large number of clubs throughout the country, many of them very well-established and some decades old. Clubs usually have a specific area in their title, a board of directors and recognize other organizational posts, almost like a small company.
The main objectives of most beekeeping clubs are to encourage and support interest in beekeeping in the area, as well as to provide a channel through which members can help each other. Depending on the type of club, the club may well offer the occasional social event too.
In short - applied, local knowledge. Much of what you learn as a beekeeper is generic and common across all beekeepers. That knowledge is very important. But some of the more valuable and essential information is local in nature. Examples include:
These are just some of the benefits associated with a local club. There are also obvious benefits from being around beekeepers with a wide range of experience, sometimes measured decades, in the local area. This can be invaluable and regular meetings can be a fun opportunity to engage with such esteemed beekeeping company.
A final important benefit of beekeeping clubs is the ability to pose for cheesy photos, with the smoker, hive tool and bee suits being mandatory!
People often ask us how to find a local club. This is easier than you might imagine, since there are so many around the country.
A good way to start is to search online for a statewide beekeeping club - like this. This example finds clubs in Texas and the very first one listed just happens to be The Texas Beekeepers Association. Browse around that site and you will soon find a list of Local Beekeepers Associations. That's pretty straightforward and it is just as easy for other states.
Having a mentor is complimentary to joining a beekeeping club. Indeed, joining a club is an excellent way to find a mentor, though not the only way.
You can think of a mentor as a "personalized, one man/woman beekeeping club"! His or her expertise will be very valuable, but being able to physically view your own hives and ask specific questions can't be beat. This allows your mentor to consider the situation and make suggestions in an entirely contextual way, specific to your beehives.
Different mentors offer different perspectives. For example, your mentor might be someone with experience managing a small number of hives. That person will emphasize certain aspects of beekeeping over others. For example, with a small number of hives s/he might have an interest in the aesthetic appeal of the hive, which some address by painting their hives.
Another choice of mentor might have a gift for managing a large number of hives. That mentor is likely to value factors like efficiency and speed.
Both of these mentors add value and you will need to decide, to some extent, which way you would like to take your beekeeping, to help with your choice of mentor.
A good mentor might be interested in the occasional shared project. Club members, of course, might have an interest in this too, but working one-on-one with a mentor who has close up experience of your own hives is great fun!
The obvious channel is through a beekeeping club. Just make friends and identify someone who seems experienced, who's company you find enjoyable and who seems eager to help in any way he or she can.
Depending on your area, another way to find a great mentor is to strike up a conversation with a beekeeping neighbor. If you know the neighbor, get along well and trust his or her judgment you are basically there - just ask if s/he can help you and guide you. If you don't know the person you should probably start with a simple opening question, just to gauge the level of experience, communication skills and willingness to help.