Friday, February 25, 2011

If All Else Fails, Read Instructions

My first interaction with honey bees was in the summer of 1984. I was only 9 years old, but I remember the day vividly because it was the first time my dad inspected my grandfather's hives. Up to then, my grandfather was the only family member who fooled with bees, and after his death my father showed an interest in tending them.

Papa's bee suit consisted of a pair of dark grey coveralls, a drawstring veil, a mesh ventilated helmet and some work gloves. My dad was bigger than him, therefore, the only things that really fit were the gloves, helmet and veil. So the other parts of his make shift suit consisted of one of those heavy old school black coats with a big fur collar, work boots and a lot of duct tape. Whatever he lacked in knowledge about working a hive of bees, he made up for in fortitude as he stomped down toward "The Branch" (stream) where Papa's three hives were set up; the whole family watching with pride and anticipation.

About 20 minutes later, my father emerged from the right side of the tractor shed, staggering and flogging at bees who were feverishly attacking him. Many of them had managed to enter his veil, stinging him across his back and shoulders. Others had gotten into his boots and stung him severely on both of his ankles. All total, my mom counted 64 stings. There wasn't much doubt; Papa's Bees 1, Pop zero.

After he healed up, my dad bought several books on beekeeping. Among them were, The Hive and the Honey Bee, the bible of beekeeping, The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture, and Walter T Kelley's classic, How to Keep Bees and Sell Honey.

Al Gore hadn't gotten around to inventing the internet in 1984, so in addition to books, my dad read two beekeeping magazines which are still popular today: American Bee Journal and Bee Culture. Within the pages of these books and periodicals, he learned, among other things, that bees do not respond well to dark colors or heavy fragrances. So his hulking furry black coat and Aramis didn't do much to keep things copacetic.

Bad Idea
Now a days, in addition to new and timeless classic books, DVD's and a handful of magazines there are online forums like Beemaster and Beesource, manufacturer's websites like Brushy Mountain, Mann Lake and Walter T Kelley (most of which have fan pages on Facebook), and countless blogs like The Backwards Beekeepers, John Pluta's Georgia Bees, Blakeney Bees and of course Buzzed and Confused ;). Then there's YouTube, Wikipedia and apiary websites...the list of resources available online goes on and on. Further, there are scores of state and local beekeeping associations full of knowledgeable folks willing and ready to share what they have learned. Yep, these days, you can just about enjoy the hobby of beekeeping vicariously without even so much as popping the top on a hive. But how much fun would that be?

So the moral of this story is to learn all you can before jumping in. Read, ask, listen and observe. Join an association. Read the forums. Buy some books. Follow some blogs. And when you feel comfortable, consider establishing a hive or two. You'll be glad you did.

In the years that followed, Papa's hives were washed away when the branch got out of its banks during a heavy storm, but my dad would end up learning quite a bit about how to keep honey bees; passing off a bit of his knowledge to me. He would go on to establish new hives at our home, where as a teen, I would carefully walk up on hot summer days and watch "beards" of bees hanging on the outside of the hive. And, as fate would have it, 14 years after my dad's woeful first inspection, I would find myself sitting alone eating breakfast in Schilletter dining hall at Clemson University with my nose buried in his tattered copy of How to Keep Bees and Sell Honey, biding my time until I had a job and a paycheck so I could get started on my own trials and tribulations with this curious and fascinating little insect.


If you'd like to be notified of updates to this blog, please email me at I promise your email address will not be shared with anyone.

 If you're interested in learning more about beekeeping, join a local beekeepers association as well as your state's beekeepers association. Explore your state's master beekeeper program if they have one. The following links can get you started:

U.S. State Beekeeping Clubs

South Carolina
South Carolina Beekeepers Association
Local Beekeepers Associations in South Carolina
South Carolina Master Beekeeper Program

Georgia Beekeepers Association
Local Beekeepers Associations in Georgia
Georgia Master Beekeeper Program

North Carolina
North Carolina State Beekeepers Association
Local Beekeepers Associations in North Carolina
North Carolina Master Beekeeper Program

No comments:

Post a Comment