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! For anyone who is contemplating getting a beehive you have some things to consider. So, what does a beekeeper do?
What is a Beekeeper?
Thousands of years ago, mankind recognized that honey bees had something sweet to offer. Why not gathered some of their honey stores to eat. Initially, honey was collected and consumed-with little thought for the bees.
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Over 4,500 years ago, early beekeeping was being practiced in Egypt. Mankind was learning how to keep bees and harvest honey without destroying the bee family.
Today, that tradition continues as beekeepers manage hives to produce honey and provide pollination for gardens and orchards. A beekeeper – keeps bees.
A Beekeeper is Called an Apiarist
The term applied to people who keep honey bees is apiarist. The word is derived from the Latin word “Apis” meaning bee.
Common Beekeeper Tasks
Hobby 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 get 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 – beehive require some management.
- regular hive inspections to check for problems in the hive
- provide new queen bees when the colony loses one or cant replace one
- feed bees when forage conditions are bad – no nectar or pollen
- treat colonies for mites or other pest problems if needed
- educate non-beekeepers on ways to help all bees
- report any unusual problems that appear to bee researchers
Beekeepers are 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!
Beekeeping is farming. Honey bee colonies are managed primarily for honey production or pollination of crops.
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. Honey bees can not fly in cold temperatures or rainy weather.
Beekeeper Salary – How Much Does a Beekeeper Make Per Year?
This brings a smile to my face because the vast majority of beekeepers do not make good money. It is rewarding but hard work. Still, many of us really enjoy being a part of the world of the honey bee.
Modern beekeepers are interested in a lot more than honey production. They also provide millions of dollars in value to the agricultural system through pollination.
Some apiarist build a beekeeping business based on selling bees and beekeeping supplies.
Many small-scale beekeeper enjoy making some extra money from sales of honey and other hive products. If you are considering having your own bee business, start slow. Learn before you expect to earn.
After you have mastered the basics of keeping bees, then it is time to consider if you have the time and investment capital to become a profitable business.
Of course, beekeeping might just be one part of your plan, there are many homesteading skills to learn that will add value to your lifestyle.
Would I Make a Good Beekeeper?
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.
While we all continue to learn more over time, a learn as you go approach in beekeeping will lead to some dead hives.
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Some important tips for new beekeepers include: 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.
How Often do Beekeepers Get Stung?
One of the few drawbacks to managing honey bees is the sting. When working with large colonies of stinging insects, a few sting situations are bound to occur.
Do beekeepers get stung often? The answer depends to a great deal on the beekeeper, the bees and timing.
Some races of honey bees are more genetically inclined to be defensive. Thanks to the wonders of biology, some bee families tend to be gentle while others become agitated more easily.
For this reason, anyone who is just getting started with bees should choose a calmer type of bee. The Italian bees are a good example of a suitable choice for new beekeepers.
The beekeeper who uses gentle, smooth movements is less likely to get stung. Treating the hive roughly and banging equipment around is a good way to get stung.
Using a bee smoker to calm bees prior to opening the hive is a good practice. The cool white smokes does not harm honey bees-it masks their alarm pheromones.
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.
Why Beekeeper Suits are White?
Okay, why are all these people wearing a white suit to the bee yard? It makes no sense-unless you know a bit more about honey bees. Honey bees are not aggressive (for the most part) but they are defensive.
The use of a white beekeeper suit (traditionally) or any light color suit is best. They make you look less like a dark colored predator. You do not want to look (or smell) like a bear when visiting your bees.
As a beekeeper living in the red clay area of the South, a white suit and a little Clorox is not a bad way to go. Though of course – mine will never be truly white again!
However, beekeeper suits do not have to be white – any light color will work fine. Whatever color or style you use – having good protective wear is important for beekeeper safety.
Are Beekeepers Good for Bees?
Like everything else in life, 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.
Does this matter to the bee personally? NO. But, because bee pollination of food crops is big business, bee problems get attention.
Beekeepers are good for bees because they are constantly on alert. A lot of hard work and expense goes into managing honey bee colonies. If a new or unusual problem arises, beekeepers are the first to know.
Beekeeping is Not for Everyone
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. Beekeeping is not for everyone and that’s okay.
Those of you who are not able to have a hive can still support beekeeping by buying honey from small scale local beekeepers.
Finding Local Beekeepers Near You
Connecting with local beekeepers is always a good strategy. You may wish to support them by purchasing honey. Or if you are a new beekeeper, having discussions with local folks is always helpful.
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 beekeeper’s association – contact them for more information.
A Final Word of What Beekeepers Do
Beekeepers keep honey bees in man-made hives. Beyond providing shelter, we manage their progress and growth and try to help in any situations where the colony may be at risk.
Being a good beekeeper is a worthwhile, rewarding occupation. We may never become rich. But, we share a look inside the world of the bee that few others will ever experience.