The Rules Of Beekeeping By Big Bear

Beecause I can, that’s why

I refer frequently to “Beekeeping Rule #1” when I teach classes and in various social media.  My rules are something I just came up with one day in a joking reference to the old joke based on an old commercial listing reasons or excuses for using a particular product.

Most recently, I actually compiled a very short list of “Beekeeping Rules”according to how important I see them.  These are “Big Bear’s Rules of Beekeeping”.   In addition to the few rules, I also have tossed in some axioms that are particularly relevant to apiculture as I see it.

On to the list…

Big Bear’s Rules of Beekeeping

Rule #1:  Bees are crazy.

One of the worst things we do when getting into playing with bees is to expect them to do things that make some sort of sense to us.  We expect them to think and behave in accordance to the way humans think.  They don’t.  They don’t “reason” or think the way we do.  compared to us, bees are truly and utterly crazy.  Don’t let yourself bee fooled.

Rule #2: Have a Plan

Originally, and on a recent podcast episode, I said that I put this rule as #3 but I was wrong.  It’s really second in line.  I can’t stress the importance of having a plan for at least the next 12 months if not longer depending on the beekeeping you are involved in.

Axiom to Rule #2: Proper planning prevents poor performance.

The more in-depth your plan is, the better prepared you can be.  It’s a horrible feeling walking up to a hive or multiple hives finding a die-out or major problem and knowing or finding out it was preventable or able to be corrected with basic early intervention.  Planning out ahead of time sets you up for success.  A proper plan includes;

Goals.  What is the purpose or the point, the reason you are doing this?

Objectives.  What specific things do you want to accomplish by the end of the season or time frame?  Set up things that are measurable and trackable so that you can monitor your progress along the way.

Strategies.  What methodologies and processes are you going to follow to achieve those goals an objectives?  For example, will you include an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in your operation?  How specifically will it be tailored to the way you are going to meet your goals and objectives?

Tactics.  What specific techniques and tools, specific equipment and materials will you need to obtain and have ready to use?  The tools and handling methods you use should be chosen to fit into your strategy and help you to meet your goals and objectives.  Too often people choose the tools, equipment and methods they use with very little thought beyond cost or ease of use and end up causing themselves more trouble in the long run.

Rule #3: Bee Prepared

Back to the example of walking into an apiary and finding that there is a particular issue or problem.  Maybe what you find is actually something you planned for.  That’s good.  Did you actually follow through and get all the tools, equipment and materials to do something about it?  If you didn’t, you are probably in trouble.  There are situations in the apiary when by the time you discover the issue, it’s too late.  You might fix it if you deal with it on the spot.  If you don’t have the things you need though, you will just be prolonging the inevitable.

Axiom to Rule #3; It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Your beekeeping is yours and yours alone.  It’s fine to get advice from mentors, coaches, instructors and other beekeepers but always think for your self and specifically to your own goals and objectives.  Those might not be the same as those other people and what those other people suggest may or may not work in your specific, particular situation.  Don’t let yourself be bluffed, bullied or otherwise put in a corner to do “what everyone else does”.  They’re your bees, your hives, your apiary and your goals.  You need to make decisions to meet those, not what someone else is doing.

An axiom without a rule

While all of the above are things I find to be very important, critical actually, to apicultural success, I have a saying that overrules all of them.

Beekeeping should be fun.

By extension, all things related to beekeeping should be fun, bee clubs and associations, running honey booths and information tables.  Whatever.  If beekeeping isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong.

For those involved in professional apiculture, no, it won’t always be fun because it’s business and business means hard work and effort.  Even so, it should be satisfying and fulfill your passion.  If not, you’re in the wrong business.

Apiculture isn’t “just” beekeeping but a trade with adventure

What’s in a word?

Apiculture and beekeeping.  Two words that are synonymous of each other and yet not exactly the same.  Many words often refer to something similar  yet every word also retains it’s own special definition.  Each word isn’t exactly the same as other synonymous words.

Words have meaning.  Apiculture refers to beekeeping, yet it means something more distinct.  Yes, apiculture and beekeeping both refer to the practice of maintaining honey bee hives.  Yet, while one term, “beekeeping”, is obviously more generic, “apiculture” suggests something more refined.

Apiculture as a trade

I know that I am not the only one who looks upon and goes about my efforts with bees as a hobby or even in a “commercial” approach.  Apiculture as a trade exists in a place somewhere in between the two.

One one hand, it is a specialized, professional endeavor.  A process through which a person has undergone formal and informal education.  Apprenticeship and working with and alongside a person who has made a living with bees and all they provide.

It is, in part, setting goals and objectives for productivity and profitability.  We establish and follow objective measures and a course of action to be planned and followed.

As a trade there are technical issues and aspects we must identify and practice.  We develop a mastery of skills and knowledge and never cease to build upon it.

Apiculture is also a passion

This path also requires a philosophical approach, if not an artistic one.   Apiarists are guided by a sense of design and purpose.  There is purpose from the initial stages of preparing the grounds and putting together hives to selecting the type of bees and the management methods to achieve the goals of the apiary.

As an Apiarist (or Apiculturist) there is a connection we feel not just to the bees but to the apiary and to the work as a whole.  It is in it’s own way a Holistic enterprise.  We are always trying to achieve this balance.  We want to work toward a symmetry of sorts between the immediate environment, the bees and our purpose.

Apiculture is equal parts practicality and ideology

If we bring all the parts together, we get a grand purpose.   It’s both a career and a passion.  For so many, it becomes a part of their essential identity.  It’s a part of who and what we are.  The term, “Labor of love” is heard from apiarists fairly often.

This in no way slights either hobbyists or commercial operators.  The interactions they pursue in those avenues are admirable in their own ways as well.  Still, there is indeed a difference.  There is a difference economically and philosophically.

The Bee Smart beekeeping project

Bee Smart beekeeping project is to provide information and insight for anyone and everyone who wants to know more about bees and beekeeping.  You could say it is an enterprise of apiculture passion.  I want to share with people not just knowledge and information about bees.  It’s also about sharing the experience, the enthusiasm, and the opportunity that bees and beekeeping presents.

Everything posted here is an effort to share all of those things and have fun and keep people interested while doing so.  From the puzzles and article posts to the podcasts and occasional videos.  It’s all about sharing the experience of apiculture.

Let me share with you the world of bees and beekeeping that I and other apiarists I am lucky enough to call my friends can show you.  See you in the forums.

New Beeginnings for the Bee Joyful Apiary

We literally break ground this coming weekend to start setting hive stands at the new teaching apiary at Scatter Joy Acres up in Florence.

We are starting off with 2 new interns, 1 full apprentice and 2 volunteer assistants.

We are still encouraging people to donate materials and resources directly to Scatter Joy Acres and if you would like to support the Bee Smart beekeeping project effort to manage the apiary, train new Apiarists, and provide positive interaction opportunities for visitors, please consider supporting us over at my Patreon page for the Bee Smart beekeeping project. Our Patreon supporters will have exclusive access to video updates on the progress of the apiary throughout the year.

Part of the work I do is live bee removals around the Omaha metro area.  As I rescue these bees before they might be killed, I will start them in a process to hopefully end up at the Bee Joyful Teaching Apiary.  Again these live removal efforts are greatly helped by our Patreon supporters whose patronage helps to reduce costs of work for low income people.  Costs can get very high trying to open up and repair an opening where a bee nest is removed.

My goal is to help people bee better beekeepers and keep bee alive and thriving.  My apprentices want to to be that kind of beekeeper as well.  With projects like this that allow us to offer fun, informative and creative content to share with the world, everyone comes out a winner.  Your patronage at the Patreon page help create winners.

Notable and Notorious Beekeepers

The topic for the Bee Smart beekeeping project website this week is learning a bit more about the notable and notorious beekeepers that have moved the world of beekeeping over the years.

Some have given us great innovations in methods and equipment.  Others have increased our understanding immensely.  Still others have given us experience in what not to do rather than do what they actually did.

Let’s chat about some if the great minds and personalities that have helped modern apiculture become what it is today, shall we?

This Week at Bee Smart…Pests

Trying out some topical changes here at the Bee Smart beekeeping project.  You may have noticed the new weekly puzzle on Wednesdays.  It has a theme.  That’s due to the idea that each week here will loosely focus on a particular subject.

This week’s subject is pests of beekeeping.  Notice that we’re just talking about pests, not diseases or poison.

Nasty little critters like Varroa mites and Small Hive Beetles (SHB).  Wax moths, ants, skunks, even dragonflies.

There are many pests that seem intent on taking down bees.  We’ll spend this week talking about some of them in these posts, in the puzzles and maybe a video.

Some pests are persistent threats nearly all year long.  Others are seasonal or unique to certain conditions.  I won’t try to cover everything in this post, way too much ground to cover in a year let alone one week or one post.

However, we’ll spend this week getting to know a bit more about some of the troublemakers that keep making bees lives harder than they should be.  They can make beekeepers jobs harder too.

Thanks for stopping by to see what we’re up to and please come back often.  We’ll try to make sure we have something fresh ready every day.

The Bee Smart beekeeping project podcast beegins again

Yes, things are getting back on track on especially awesome.

The Beehooligans Podcast will start recording again by the end of the Month and get at least one episode out by then.. We are jumping from being a weekly podcast to every two weeks instead.  

Also, we’re focusing on assembling a live, local group of beekeeperly people to a round table discussion and one or two of our alternately located Beehooligans via web conferencing in on the chat.

And hey, if you happen to be in the Omaha, NE area on one of the days we record, we’d love to have you sit in with us.

They are honey bees, They are Legion.

One…is the loneliest number….

Unless, of course, you’re talking about bees.  Bees throw things on their side sometimes.  Take the honey bee colony for example.

There is “A” honey bee colony.  One.  Singular.  “It” is what we beekeepers are interacting with when we tend to a hive.  “A” colony is made up of many tens of thousands of individual bees that fall into one of three castes.  So now we have one colony, three castes and thousands of bees.  Yet and still, we are talking about the same thing.

Of the three castes within a colony (reproductive female, reproductive males, and non-reproductive females), none of them can sustain a colony on it’s own.  They are all three interdependent upon each other.  A colony cannot and will not survive long without all three castes represented.

Each individual bee carries out tasks determined in part part instinct, age, and interaction with other bees.  All of the tasks carried out by all of the bees are carried out not with their own individual interests in mind, but to fulfill the needs of the colony as a whole, single, unified entity.

This important to understand as we tend to our hives.  As I work with a hive, I am working with “A” honey bee colony, not just a bunch of bees in a box.  There is no indication that the bees possess a sense of individuality on a one-by-one basis.

I like to name my hives to reflect the singularity of the “many in one” colony.  Just for fun, I once had a hive named “Borg” and another named “Legion”.    It was all fun and games until Legion picked up some REALLY “hot” traits and made the trope a bit too close for comfort.

Actually, Legion is quite an accurate trope to describe the honey bee colony.  It brings to mind the concept of the “hive mind”  (gee, I wonder where that concept came from😮) in which, there is no individual identity of the members of the whole, they are one mind,  they share a singular identity.

So, as you go out and tend the hives, consider seeing them not a simply a box of a bunch of bees but as “A” Bee colony instead.  It may very well affect how you interact with them and how you go about your beekeeping.