Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Learning to keep bees: Meet a beekeeper! Part 4

Today, we close our interview with beekeeper Michele Bennett Decoteau, of Blue Hive Journals. (If you're just joining us, here are the links to part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this interview.)

Welcome back, Michele. If someone wants to start keeping bees, what's the best way to begin? Do you have any organizations that you'd recommend for a novice beekeeper?

If you are interested in becoming a beekeeper, the best thing you can do is find a mentor. Check out your local beekeeping organization and start attending classes and meetings. If you are not sure where to find one, call your local bee inspector. Every state has at least one bee inspector in the state agriculture department.

[Note from Mama Joules: Other countries have their own beekeeping organizations, too, like The National Bee Unit in the U.K. Be sure to check your local laws first. Some locations, like New York City, prohibit beekeeping -- not that it stops the New York City Beekeepers Association!]

I also suggest [that] you read a lot. There are many books for beginners on beekeeping. Look for a book written locally because every region has its own variations. I really like Backyard Beekeeping [by C. N. Smithers].

Once you've started keeping bees as a hobby, how much work does it take to care for the bees? How often do you spend working with them? Are you afraid of being stung?

I check my hives weekly from about the end of March through October. Sometimes it is a bit more frequent if I need to do something like change frames around or add medications in the fall. Each check takes anywhere from a half hour to a couple of hours. In addition to checking my bees, I go to the monthly meetings of my local beekeeper's organization so I can learn new stuff.

I love my bees and the time flies. Most of the time I have to remind myself not to go bug them too much! I'd be in the hive every day! Unfortunately, it takes about three days for the hive to settle back down each time I bug them so I try not to disturb the hives if I don't have to.

I am not afraid of getting stung. Getting stung does happen, but it is a reminder to me that I am not doing something right. You don't get in the way of bees doing their job, you move slowly, you take your time, and you don't often get stung. It can be very zen like.

It still hurts to get stung. When you get stung, the first thing you need to do is scrape out the stinger. I find that chewing up English Plantain, a common weed, and putting that on the sting, takes the bite out. Many people say that getting stung from time to time helps their joints stay supple. I have not found that to be the case for me - I tend to swell up where I get stung!

What are the benefits of beekeeping?

Honestly, I just love being with my bees. Working the bees forces you to calm down - it can be quite meditative.

I feel like I am more in tune with my local environment. For example, when the bees were coming into the hive with white pollen all along their backs in March, it took some detective work to figure out that the skunk cabbage was blooming. I tend to be more aware of what is in bloom and for how long.

Of course, honey is a nice bonus along with beeswax. I made beeswax hand cream last year that was great for winter-chapped hands. My goal this year is to try to make lip balm too. Our honey tends to be very light, which is my taste preference.

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences of beekeeping with us, Michele! If you'd like to learn more about backyard beekeeping, please visit Michele and her bees online at Blue Hive Journals.

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If you liked this post, you might also like:

Meet a beekeeper!

Meet a beekeeper! Part 2: The intelligence of bees

Meet a beekeeper! Part 3: Colony Collapse Disorder

National Pollinator Week 2009

Photo credits: Jon Mitchell (top) and Nigel Wedge (bottom), through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


jublke said...

Michele, do bumblebees make honey? If not, what do they make?

Michele said...

Great question, Julie. Yes, bumblebees do make honey and feed on that, but they don't story great quantities as Honeybees do.