Why is that person dressed in a long, white suit complete with hat and veil? Ah, it is a beekeeper. We beekeepers are a special group. Some folks admire us and others think we are just about half-crazy – maybe both groups are not far from the truth! Perhaps, you are contemplating getting a beehive or maybe you just want to learn more about beekeeping. So, what is a beekeeper called and what do they do?
In the world of beekeeping someone who keeps honey bees is called and “apiarist”. This is a strange word for those not familiar with beekeeping terms. But, there is a logical reason to use this word as becomes clearing as we look deeper into the practice of beekeeping.
What is Beekeeping?
Before delving too deep into what the life of a beekeeper is like, we must take a peek at “what is beekeeping“? You can be a great lover of bees and other pollinators yet you are certainly not consider to be a beekeeper.
The scientific term for beekeeping is “apiculture” (ay-puh-kuhl-chr). This word is derived from a combination of the Latin word for bee “apis” and the French word culture.
Apiculture was first used to describe honey bee management in the mid-19th century. But, humans and bees were interacting well before then.
Mythology provide many references to insects and some that refer to bees as Gods. You will also find bees mentioned in the bible, they were used in Christian biblical writing to symbolize many positive characteristics.
There are several species of honey bees in the world. But, in the United States, our bees are the European Honey Bee (or Western Honey Bee) – Apis mellifera.
What does a Beekeeper Do?
Traditionally, keeping honey bees was primarily a pastime for males only. But, you will find some ladies on the list of famous beekeepers throughout history and today.
The location where hives are located is called an “apiary“, or often simply “bee-yard”. An apiary may contain 1 or 2 hives in the case of backyard beekeepers.
But large apiaries are found in agricultural fields that contain thousands of beehives. A beekeeper manages honey bee colonies in a way to promote productivity.
Common Beekeeper Tasks
Your duties as a beekeeper vary a bit depending on your goals. An apiarist working for maximum production of honey has a different task schedule than one providing pollination services.
Beekeepers find themselves performing a wide variety of jobs.
- regular hive inspections to check for problems in the hive
- provide new queens – requeening a colony when needed
- feed sugar water to bees when forage conditions are bad
- treatments for varroa mites or other pest problems if needed
- educate non-beekeepers on ways to help save all bees
- report any unusual problems that appear to bee researchers
Small scale beekeepers can enjoy a few hives in the backyard without a lot of disruption to their lives. Beehives do not require daily care like some livestock or pets.
However, this does not mean you can put out a hive and just forget about it. Perhaps years ago that approach could work.
However, with the influx of pests and diseases in the last 30 years – you will have to devote some time to beehive management if you want your colonies to thrive.
Hives must be periodically inspected for any signs of disease in the bees or the comb. It is remarkable that these insects allow us to take a look inside their home.
Each hive needs a good productive queen, plenty of food and should grow throughout the season as expected.
The main challenge for the beekeeper is to make sure the colony is healthy and has everything it needs to be productive.
Beekeepers are Called Farmers
This may sound like an outrageous idea to those not familiar with beekeeping. However, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) classifies honey bees as livestock!
Beekeepers are farmers. But, unlike a cattle rancher who keeps livestock under physical control, bees fly freely. Our flying livestock makes use of any available forage.
And like any farmer, weather plays a major part in the success of a beekeeping operation. Too much or too little rain, temperature fluctuations and other weather conditions affect bee productivity.
Do Beekeepers Make Money?
Can you get rich with bees? This brings a smile to my face because the vast majority of beekeepers do not make good money.
Though there are those who make a living income from beekeeping with reasonable salaries. In return for a lot of hard work.
Regardless of the number of hives you have – it is rewarding but hard work. Many apiarists build a beekeeping business based on selling bees and beekeeping supplies.
There are many ways to expand the products provided by the honey bee apiary. In some areas, beekeepers provide bee venom therapy for people seeking relief from arthritis.
Even small-scale beekeepers enjoy making some extra money from sales of honey and other hive products – such as beeswax. Beeswax is worth more per pound than honey.
Of course, selling hive products for additional income is often just one part of a homesteading plan. There are other homesteading skills that compliment having a couple of hives in your backyard.
Being an Apiarist is Not for Everyone
Being a beekeeper is not for everyone and that’s okay. Managing honey bee colonies involve some hard work. Not everyone will have the time and energy to spend on this type of project.
Even with protection and training, most every beekeeper gets stung at some point. It is unrealistic to go into this activity and expect to never be stung – but with training and experience you can reduce those episodes.
Those of you who are not able to have a hive can still support other beekeepers by buying honey from small scale local producers.
Finding Local Beekeepers Near You
Connecting with local beekeepers is always a good strategy. Perhaps you may be thinking – are there any beekeepers near me?
An easy way to find out is to contact your state extension office. Or if your state has an active beekeeping association – contact them for more information.
Do you have what it takes to become a good beekeeper? The best beekeepers take the initiative to learn as much as they can about bees before they arrive.
Be willing to learn, be patient, don’t expect too much the first year, start slow with only a few hives.
If all of this sounds reasonable to you and you have a couple of hours a week to devote to bees – you may be a budding apiarist.
Sometimes a beekeeper catches a wild swarm of bees. But the most common way to get bees for a new hive is to buy bees from a supplier.
How often a beekeeper gets stung depends on several factors. Some races of honey bees are more genetically inclined to be defensive.
With proper use of a bee smoker, the beekeeper who uses gentle, smooth movements is less likely to get stung. In stormy, rain or turbulent weather, any bee colony will be a bit on edge. Beekeepers learn when to open the hive and when they need to wait until another day.
There are good beekeepers and some that are not so good. For the most part, a beekeeper is actually the best friend to the honey bee. Using honey bees, beekeepers are able to produce honey and provide important crop pollination.
A Final Word
If you would like to be called a beekeeper or apiarist, I encourage you to look farther into the practice. It is a worthwhile and rewarding occupation. We may never become rich. Our beekeeper salary is not measured in dollars. But, we share a look inside the world of the beehive that few others will ever experience.