The Beginner Beekeeper

From: Page 30 Bee Craft Digital September 2011

John McMullan

Thoughts on the perennial problem of how to nurture beginners and encourage them to continue with their bees

Bee-Craft-Sept-11-pg30CURRENTLY THERE is a huge interest in beekeeping throughout Europe. Many beekeeping groups and associations are working to meet this demand. However, much of this work will be in vain if the European experience mirrors the USA where, in a March 2011 article in the American Bee Journal, it was claimed that 75% of beginners give up beekeeping within three years. Some thoughts on the issues involved and approaches that have been tried in Ireland may be of interest to readers.

A Delicate Balance

Beginner beekeepers are in a fragile state. Like most of us they start with no previous knowledge of the insect world. The first year is very important and if they do not get to grips with beekeeping in this period they are likely to fall by the wayside. Some will have discovered, for various reasons, that beekeeping is not for them – but what about the others?

It is clear that in dealing with beginners there is a delicate balance to be struck at the very start. On the one hand we can treat beekeeping as an old craft and pass on the ‘what-to-do’ by rote from the experienced to the new beekeeper. On the other hand, it can be said that beekeeping is underpinned by science and if we understand the bees’ real needs and nature then most of the ‘what-to-do’ can be figured out. Getting this balance right is critical but it is only one of many elements that must be addressed in the first year of the beginner beekeeper.

It is generally accepted that beginners’ courses are an essential first step and a worthwhile investment in beekeeping. We all know of beginners who have tried to do it on their own but have become a nuisance to themselves and their neighbours and have had to give up in the end.

The first drop-out occurs during the beginners’ course, although an article in the June 2011 issue of Bee World stated that, in Britain, the drop-out had now reduced to a still high level of one-third of attendees.

Understanding the Honey

Bee The old-craft skills should be supplemented with an understanding of the nature of the honey bee. It is good to remember that insects (and honey bees) are strange animals and if we started out with the same level of ignorance in raising our children, there would be a lot of child neglect and mortality around.

Duty of Care

We have a duty of care to our bees and if we don’t try to understand their needs, treat them properly and are able to relate to their behaviour and maladies, we really should not be in charge of them.

Easy Confusion

Nowadays there are so many inputs on beekeeping matters available to the beginner that if they try to take it all in they are in danger of becoming very confused. One good general text on beekeeping should be the main point of reference for the beginner in the early years and this can be included in the course fee.
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