Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Buzz

In an earlier post, I listed beekeeping as one possible productive use of the hundred or so acres which I call The Farm (but which my wife prefers to refer to as "the country estate"). Yesterday I spent a day at a beekeeper workshop, hosted by the Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association. It was time well spent. A couple of colonies of prime honey bees will soon be moving into luxury accommodations on the property.

I wasn't sure what to expect. I think I imagined a dozen or so retired introverts, tentatively exploring a new hobby. What I found was a crowd of 200-300 enthusiasts of all ages -- and that was just the beginners. A father and son were buying additional hive boxes and frames for their suburban yard. A couple from my own neighborhood have been keeping bees for years (they went to the advanced class). Farmers were there to learn how to add another cash crop to their operations. Vegetarians wanted to learn about meatlless livestock. Vendors were displaying and selling a wide range of equipment.

Hardly any mention was made of the cultural or philosophical or political reasons to encourage people to keep bees. Colony Collapse Disorder has taken a serious toll among commercial beekeeping operations, and nobody knows exactly what's behind it. Bees are so important and beneficial to both agriculture and gardening that it is almost a civic duty to at least consider keeping a couple of hives.

But the hundreds who showed up for the Saturday workshop needed no persuading. They were there, as far as I can tell, because they had already made up their minds that keeping bees was something they wanted to do -- whether for profit, or because they liked to eat honey, or because the bees would benefit their orchards, or out of sheer love for Western Civilization.

What people were looking for yesterday -- and what they got -- was not the why of beekeeping, but the how. How is a new hive assembled? How do you work safely around the little beasties? How do you get a new queen? How do you recognize and treat common bee pests and diseases? How do you harvest the honey? It was a full load of practical information: from honey-supers to small hive beetles, weighing the relative merits of different kinds of hive tools and the argument about queen excluders (a.k.a. "honey excluders" depending which side you're on).

The thoroughly down-to-earth focus of the whole day, and the ease with which I could get practical answers to all the dumb, novice questions I had, was refreshing and empowering. I've now ordered a beginners kit which will include structures (bottom board, boxes, frames, foundations, and covers -- and, yes, queen excluders!) for two hives and the basic tools and protective clothing to get me started. Queen kits will be ordered soon! Watch this space. . .

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