So You Want to Be a Beekeeper!

You might read books, research on google or just strike out on your own, but these self-taught approaches to beekeeping often lead to “one-and-done”. You buy bees in the spring, watch them for one summer and fall, maybe get a little honey, then lose your colony over winter, ending in big disappointment and an end to the hobby.

No one can guarantee success but you can increase your chances of satisfaction with this 3-part process:

  1. Take a beginning beekeeper course

  2. Join a beekeeping club, and

  3. Find a mentor. 

 

These steps have one thing in common: learning from experienced beekeepers. Being a beekeeper is a science and an art. You need to understand certain things about honey bees including their roles, behavior and needs, all studied for many years and documented.

 

Then there are various methods of handing, providing for, protecting and propagating bees, also necessary to keep colonies alive and productive. This is the art of beekeeping. There is not just one way to do it, but many ways. Only you can decide, usually by trial and error, what works for you in your situation.

 

Take a beginning beekeeper course:  Beekeeping courses are offered in various forms. 

Beekeeping courses are offered in various forms: 

  • Full semester courses are offered at a community college or college and may have prior course requirements. They run an entire semester, offered for college credit. These usually include a heavier dose of the science and a lab component with field training. These are comprehensive and require more time and money.
     

  • Short-term courses (a couple hours or single day) do not have enough time to fully cover what is needed by beginning beekeepers. These may be either free or have minimal cost, and may have a hands-on visit to an apiary (one or more honey bee hives at a single location). They are a good introduction to beekeeping if you want to understand what is involved before deciding to learn more.
     

  • Multi-session courses have both the art and science and meet for several hours over several weeks. Often they are taught by local experienced beekeepers or commercial beekeepers and sponsored by either a state beekeeping organization or a local beekeeping club (experienced beekeepers also may offer these classes privately). Cost varies but is usually reasonable. Courses are designed to teach enough for a beginner to have a good chance of starting beekeeping.

 

The Iowa Honey Producers Association (IHPA) publishes a list of beginning beekeeping courses each December for classes that start in January or February of the following year.  (This is service, not an endorsement.) Most are multi-session, but some full-day classes are listed.  Information includes cost, instructor and how to sign up. Find the list on the IHPA site, Iowa Honey Producers Association,  under the “Classes and Clubs” tab.

 

Join a beekeeping club:

  • Visit one or more clubs close to where you live to meet and talk with other beekeepers. Each club operates differently, so visit several. Some are primarily discussion groups and others bring speakers for presentations. Some clubs have apiaries and have times when they have demonstrations and hands-on instruction. Most clubs welcome guests.
     

  • Join the club. Dues are usually reasonable. Don’t be shy introducing yourself and letting it be known that you are a beginner. Everyone has been new once and know the issues you face.  Beekeepers like to talk about their bees; you can learn a lot by listening and asking questions. 
     

  • As you get some experience with bees, consider joining your state beekeeping organization.  Most groups meet yearly or on a semi-annual basis. Speakers may be nationally recognized people from academia or commercial beekeepers. You will get good information in a short time and can meet beekeepers from across the state. Dues are reasonable and state meetings have a registration fee.
     

  • Even after you join a club, consider attending other clubs if they have topics you are interested in. This broadens your beekeeper contacts.
     

  • The IHPA lists clubs in Iowa, their web sites and how to contact club officers. Find it on the IHPA website, Iowa Honey Producers Association, under the “Classes & Clubs” tab. You’ll also find info about IHPA activities.

 

Find a mentor:

  • Belonging to a local club is a great opportunity to connect with an experienced beekeeper who is willing to help as you start out. You may visit your mentor’s apiaries and find out how they handle their bees. Mentors usually are willing to visit your apiaries if you have issues or questions. And they quickly become your “go to” person when questions arise.
     

  • Choose your mentor wisely. It’s a mutual decision: you must be comfortable asking questions. You also need to be willing to help your mentor periodically. This requires time, but what you learn is well worth it.
     

  • Often these become long-term friendship that live well beyond your being a “newbee.”

 

Good luck in your beekeeping journey!

 
 
 

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