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  • Ronnie Mason

New beekeepers 2020 - Part II

Where to get what you need… and a couple suggestions.

This article is going to expand on a few topics from the introductory article. More specifically, I want to share with you where I get my tools/supplies, as well as, provide a few links to help new beekeepers find what they need (or, in most cases, more than they need!).

A Mentor, do I need one?

This is a topic that I go back and forth on. Having a good mentor can be the best thing for a new beekeeper, but having a “bad” one just winds up costing you more time and money than they are worth. By “bad” mentor, I don’t necessarily mean they are not the world’s best beekeeper, they can be the Grand Puba of beekeepers, but if they cannot pass any of that magic on to you, it is not worth it. Some people are just not good at teaching, do not have the time to help, or maybe their philosophy on how to beekeep just does not jive with your way of thinking. Before you know it, it can become that awkward… ”It’s not you, it’s me” discussion and you move on your way to continue on your own beekeeping path. Sadly, if it is not a good mix of ideas and information, that toxic relationship might last a couple of beekeeping years before you decide you want to “break-up”.

Where to get a mentor?

If you do want a mentor, visit your local bee club. A quick Google/Facebook search should get you a contact for your local club. Go to a couple of meetings and talk to other beekeepers about how they run their apiary. Be ready though, going to a beekeeper meeting will be an experience within itself… you’ll just have to see for yourself when you get there. But, if you are lucky, at the meeting, you will find someone likeminded that can help you get on your way. If all else fails, email your state apiarist, it is literally their job to promote beekeeping, and they may have a running list of potential mentors.

What is better than a mentor?

Okay, you “swiped right” and found a mentor, but it did not work out. And, you tried your local bee club meeting, only to find out you accidentally showed up at a nursing home group, found the real meeting, then turns out the real meeting was less exciting than the mistaken meeting. All is not lost, you can still find information and be a successful beekeeper. How do I do this? There are two great ways to get a jump for the beginning beekeeper, one, take a beginner class. And/or two, good ol’ fashion YouTube?!

Gone are the days of having to hope someone teaches you mystical beekeeping techniques that only they know, while they talk to you like you have the IQ of a turnip. The secret is out; there is no secret. Time is the best teacher. The learning curve time is drastically reduced by using the internet. Plus, the internet won’t make you put together three or four hundred frames for them or ask you to carry honey supers from the out yard like some self-proclaimed bee whispers will.

Beginner Classes can be pricy, but ultimately is money saved.

A penny saved is worth more than its weight in pure cane sugar. What do I mean by this? Let’s say a weekend beginners class cost you $100. Sounds a little pricey, right? Not if something you learned in that class made the difference in losing 1 or 2 colonies (around $380 if you bought NUCs). What is costlier is losing the honey harvest from those hives as well. On average each hive produces 60-100 pounds of honey per year. If you sell your honey for at the bar minimum of $10 a pound (we will talk more about pricing honey later), you are potentially losing $1000 per hive; maybe more. The cost of a beginner class can save you tons of money, which can lead to purchasing pounds of sugar you may need to take care of your hives that are still alive because you knew from the beginner’s class how to spot a troubled hive.

Not all beginner classes are made equal… ask before you send the check.

Beginner beekeeping classes are like food carts in the city; they pop up all over the place and are not all making the same quality grub. Some look great, but the food sucks, and others are so awesome people are chasing them down from day to day, like that castle in the 1980s movie Krull. I am going to lump beekeeping classes in two categories Lecture style and Hands-On.

Lecture style classes are by far the worst choice for new beekeepers. If you want to sit in a room and hear someone drone on for 6-8 hours, I would go to Orlando and listen to a timeshare seminar speaker. At least at the end of it, you could get free Universal Studio tickets. There is definitely a benefit to listening to a day of presentations from multiple speakers with in-depth knowledge on various ApisM subjects, but not when you are new. You need the basics with hands-on in a hive and lots of it.

Hands-On classes are by far the best answer for new beekeepers. A slideshow and some handouts will never replace being able to be at an actual apiary and look inside a hive. If there isn’t a possibility you will be stung by a honey bee in your beginner class, you are in the wrong beginner class. Great beginner classes will be conducted at a working apiary by an experienced beekeeper(s) and small enough so everyone gets hands-on time. My suggestion would be asking for a detailed class breakdown or syllabus for the day. If the instructor can’t provide that (at least in a rough form), I’d probably look for another class because this beekeeper is trying to get your cash and doesn’t really care if you become a sustainable beekeeper.

If you are in the surrounding area of Odenton, MD, call or email HoneySmith bees, I know they would be happy to help and may have already scheduled some beginner classes. Or, if you are in the Fredericksburg, VA area, I will be giving a couple of beginner classes in the Spring, as well as, some queen rearing courses in the summer.

***One chauvet to class quality and timing. There is nothing wrong with a Winter meeting that doesn’t include hands-on activities as long as the instructor is upfront with the details presented, and they provide info on how to get new beekeepers into an apiary ASAP when the weather allows.

Internet resources for the new beekeeper.

I am as much of a fan of physical books as I am of YouTube and webpages, Michael Bush’s website brings both of those worlds together. I cannot think of another beekeeper out there more open to sharing information than Michael Bush. Bush is the author of The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally. I have had the pleasure of speaking and corresponding with him on several occasions and each time he has been more than willing to help. A hardback version of his book is available on Amazon, but literally, the entire contents of the book are available for free on his website:

***Link to the hardback version of The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally

YOUTUBE VIDEOS for the new beekeeper.

Okay, you have sworn off of the written word, and you will only watch videos from here on out, I feel you. Not sure how you got this far into this article, but I do have a solution for you! Below are four different YouTube Channels, with a brief description I copied from their channel’s about section, that will help you on your way.

1. The University of Guelph Honey Bee Research Centre

The University of Guelph Honey Bee Research Centre conducts research focused on honey bee health. Since 1894, the Centre has provided apiculture education. Today, the tradition continues through university and public courses, and demonstration activities for all levels of beekeeping. Following a very successful crowd funding campaign, we are very excited to introduce our series of "How-To"' beekeeping videos, which aim to aid beekeepers with a wide range of techniques from beginner to advanced skills.

2. Backyard Beekeeping

This is a series of videos documenting the experiences of an amateur beekeeper staring with my first year and going til??? I'll be posting videos throughout the beekeeping season documenting my progress and experiences. I hope you find them useful and interesting but please realize that I am a beginner hobbyist and you should treat my presentation and ideas as such, especially the first two seasons. Looking back, and as pointed out by the many commentators, I see that I have made many beekeeping errors in my videos! Thanks to my son Alex who encouraged me to keep bees. He studied Colony Collapse Disorder in one of his biology courses at UIC and our discussions piqued my interest in this great hobby.

3. Ian Steppler

Ian Steppler, married to Sandy, father of 5, farms with his family near Miami Manitoba Canada. His family farm is a third generation farm started by Ian’s grandfather and carried forward by his parents. Nearly 10 years ago, Ian’s 3 brothers, parents has restructured the farm into a company and have since expanded into a large grain, cattle and Beekeeping operation. They crop 3500 acres of land, calve 5-600 head of pure bred Charolais cattle and manage a 1200-1500 hive apiary. Since Ian bought his first 4 hives 19 years ago he has dedicated his life passion towards beekeeping. Ian credits the current standing of his apiary to others on whom he has leaned on over the years to help guide him though many management, logistical and husbandry issues. Ian is a big believer in paying it forward which motivates him to share his successes and failures with others.

4. Devan Rawn

I'm a beekeeper based in SOUTHERN ONTARIO, CANADA! This channel is to present beekeeping in a fun way, to answer questions I hear every day, and to provide myself with a creative outlet. This Channel was also NOT intended to become a "how-to" beekeeping channel. I make videos about the way I keep bees, and what methods and management styles work for me.

I’m a paper junkie and I need more books!!!???

I hope to review a few more books in future articles, but if you are Jonesing for some reading materials, check out what Wicwas press has to offer by following the link below. Queen Rearing Essentials will be the subject of a future article; it is the book I provide students in my queen rearing classes.

Beekeeping Tools, and Tricks.

Now that your brain is so big with information that it won’t fit in the hood of your beesuit, you need tools. I mentioned it in the first article, and I reposted below the minimum vs. what I carry. I just want to stress that the bee catalogs make money selling you stuff, and stuff can sometimes be useful or just a waste of money. My personal opinion is to be as frugal as possible for the first couple of years. Buy a quality jacket, but you don’t need a gilded bee smoker powered by moon dust.

1. Get a bucket or a tote to put your beekeeping items in. Not to state the obvious, but do not put a hot smoker in a plastic bucket or tote of any kind.

2. Here is a minimum list of gear you need.

a. Hive Tool

b. Smoker (the Dadant version is best and get the bigger one right off the bat).

3. Here is a list of suggested gear to get as time goes on (this is what is in my box):

a. Hive Tool

b. Smoker

c. Veil or Beekeeping Jacket

d. Queen Marking Marker (for current year)

e. Gloves

f. Capping Scratcher

g. Sticky Notes (All Weather Version)

h. Sharpie

i. Lighter

j. 4 ½ Filet Knife

k. Extra Queen Cages (3 or 4)

l. Bee Belt

m. One handed Queen Catcher

Where to get your tools?

All the catalog places are basically the same, but some have little perks or special items that are better at their store. I listed

a. Bee Bucks reward system can save you a little cash.

a. Great customer service

a. All wax products come from Kelley

a. The best smokers available

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