So much is in the news about pollinator declines, peril to the food supply, pesticide poisoning of honeybees—could we not help this situation by keeping our own bees? HoneyLove exists to foster this very practice, and all of us in the group were mentored and brought along our path to becoming beekeepers by others in the craft. In fact, this model is the very essence of our club—“each one teach one” or “pay it forward” to help others learn.
But, there are important things to consider when contemplating the serious commitment of beginning a life of bees and beekeeping.
Probably the most important part is to become educated by reading and speaking to knowledgeable beeks about the management techniques and time commitments involved in keeping bees in a urban environment. Getting the bees and buying equipment comes later, but a person should honestly assess whether there is the time in life to —
1) do hive inspections every two weeks in the Spring season when bee colonies are rapidly growing in population. Bee colonies that become crowded from lack of space management can swarm and this attracts very unwelcome attention from non-beekeeping neighbors.
2) keep up during the whole year to assess honey production, brood space (where the bees raise the young larva), queen vigor and other issues. Later in the Summer, inspections can be spread further apart—about a month.
3) be realistic about getting a honey crop. The colony, when young, must be given time to grow in strength and resilience. The first year of a young colony, there is NO honey crop. The second year, you may get a bit. By the third year, they hit their stride and you can have a fine honey crop! (This is my experience, anyway)
4) spend the time necessary to consistently learn the techniques and understanding of how “bee society” works. We must always keep in mind that honeybees are stinging insects and the wider public often has a well developed fear of them. How we manage our bees and speak to others about bees goes a long way towards changing perceptions and biases—or, if lax in management and monitoring, how we may reinforce prejudices. It is up to us to present our best “face” of the beekeeping world.
5) develop a mentor relationship with at least one other knowledgable beek. This takes digging, because there are not enough of us, geographically speaking! HoneyLove conducts meetings every month, has apiary visits to the bee sanctuary in Moorpark, and has lots of material on the website to guide newbees in gaining wisdom.
6) coming to HoneyLove gatherings and workshops gives the new beek a chance to interact with folks all along the spectrum of knowledge and to ask questions and network for further connections.
If these considerations seem a little burdensome for right now, it may not be the right time to actually get your own colony of bees. It is a time commitment and must be managed regularly. Perhaps just fostering the local bees with planting of inviting flowers and shrubs is a better plan.
Joining the HoneyLove forum to explore these options with others is a great way to figure out if you are indeed ready to keep bees!