So here we are at the end of Stage 1 of our beekeeping course. Our focus in Stage 1 : Learn About Bees was to set the stage for the more hands-on, practical information we deliver in Stage 2 : Your Beehive and Stage 3: A Healthy Beehive.
As you start out as a beekeeper, you will hear experienced beekeepers use terms like “knowing the bees”, “listening to my bees” and understanding them. To the unfamiliar these may seem strange but over time you will come to form a unique bond with your bees. They are not traditional pets like a cat or a dog. But when you see the extreme levels of work they put into expanding and maintaining the colony you will form a tremendous respect for bees. Further, the almost perfectly collaborative ways in which they work is inspiring.
Many beekeepers find beekeeping therapeutic and relaxing. In additional, beekeeping is truly fascinating.
Our first Stage, Learn About Bees, has been all about building a base level of awareness of how and why bees live as they do. We are summarizing the main points of our month-long series of articles, for both an easy scan but also to reference other articles we have published.
But before we do so, we want to make one very important point.
Your bees will always find ways to surprise you. Many beekeepers – including very experienced ones – find beekeeping to be a never-ending challenge, with no two seasons being the same. Indeed, no two hives, right next to each other, are ever the same.
What does this mean for you, the new beekeeper?
It means what follows and our other detailed articles are merely a start. Even when armed with one or more of the excellent books available today, one really can’t replace simple, direct experience.
That’s our qualifier here – consider all this supportive in nature. When you get with your bees they will indeed teach you. You will see behaviors and outcomes you didn’t imagine. These are the skills you will build as a beekeeper, namely to interpret these signs, using all the resources available to you.
When you get your bees the learning is just starting.
With that said, let’s summarize what we have covered in Stage 1 : Learn About Bees.
The Science of Bees
There are many fascinating aspects to beekeeping but the science behind how they live is amazing. Beekeepers are best able to help their bees when they understand them at this level. Our Science of Bees section covers a broad range of topics and any effective beekeepers should have familiarity with each of these.
- Why bees are important, particularly their role in pollination
- Where honey bees fit into the overall universe of bee species (hint: they are a tiny part!)
- The surprising genetics of bees, which help us also understand the roles of the drone, worker and queen bees
- The dramatic yet highly efficient ways in which bees mate, from Drone Congregation Areas where drones meet their end, to the important decisions made when the queen fertilizes and egg and workers feed royal jelly
- The important and highly specialized way that each part of a bee’s body plays in helping it fulfill its important role in the colony
- The life cycle of the honey bee, from when the queen and drone mate, an egg is laid and transforms through larvae and pupae stages, to eventually emerge as an adult
- The beautiful dance we call pollination and the notion of mutualism that has served both bees and flowers for millions of years
- The surprising and ingenious ways in which bees build honeycomb and the myriad ways in which they put it to use within the beehive
- The powerful force of pheromones and the many ways in which they are used by all members of the colony
- The unusual mechanisms with which bees can fly
- From Italians and Russians to Cordovan, Buckfast and others – the characteristics of the many races of bees from which beekeepers can choose
The Life of Bees
Bees are resilient, strong, disciplined, resourceful and incredibly effective at what they do. Over millions of years, they have created ways to work together that can put us mere humans to shame.
The level of collaboration within the hive is often surprising to the first time beekeeper, including how the role of workers varies as they live their life. The following areas are all worth understanding in detail by the beekeeper, all as clues when it’s time to try an interpret their actions.
- The lowly but essential drone gets poor press! But his essential role – and ultimate sacrifice – allows the colony to survive and thrive
- The central but not dictatorial role of the queen, effectively playing the role of “star puppet” in the colony
- The amazingly rich, yet, short life of the worker bee and how she plays such a vital role in virtually every aspect of the running of the colony
- The culmination of the efforts of all three castes and how they result in an extraordinary society, inside and out of the hive
- The many ways in which bees use their senses to react to the world around them
- The beautiful process through which bees work so closely together to build a store of honey and the reasons they do so
- Why and how bees forage, collecting not just nectar and pollen but also water, as well as the resin from trees that helps form propolis
- How and where propolis – in all its sticky glory – is used throughout the hive for many purposes
- The honey flow, why it happens and what needs to be in place to help our bees be so productive for short periods of the year
- How bees prepare to survive the winter, using “fat bees” and the winter cluster
- The iconic event of bees swarming – why they swarm and why it’s often a sign of a healthy colony
Finally, in our final stage, we set up the more practical aspect of our course, by providing context for beekeeping as a whole. These are important ideas and philosophies that all beekeepers need to consider, so they can find their path forward.
- The principles on which natural beekeeping is formed and the decisions the beekeeper makes to find his or her position on this continuum
- The joyful opportunity to engage children in beekeeping, helping them understand the importance of bees and be very close to one of the most fascinating aspects of nature
- Why urban beekeeping is increasingly popular and what factors are at play in installing a hive in a less rural environment
- Facing the fact that bees may sting, while also knowing it is not as inevitable as some beekeepers might suggest, with a few cautionary steps
- How to listen to and communicate with neighbors and some tactics to increase the chances of living in peaceful harmony with your bees
- The delight of a darn good read, with 11 awesome beekeeping books, including the top five “classics”
Is that enough for you? Deep breath….
You now know more about bees than maybe 95% of the population! You are well beyond seeing bees merely as honey-donating, stinging machines!
Of course, knowing a few things about bees doesn’t make you a beekeeper. For that…. you are going to need some bees!
Stage 2: Your Beehive covers the hard-core, practical details you will need to start your first beehive.
Then, with that done, you have to help your bees stay healthy and Stage 3 : A Healthy Beehive is all about just that.
If you have followed along so far….congratulations.
Now the fun begins.