What Does a Beekeeper Really Do?
Why is that person dressed in a long, white suit complete with hat and veil? Ah, it is a beekeeper. Beekeeping is a rather popular undertaking in recent times. But what does a beekeeper really do with those bees?
The Earliest Beekeeper
Thousands of years ago, mankind recognized that honey bees had something sweet to offer. Initially, honey was collected and consumed-with little thought for the bees. The unfortunate bee colony was destroyed to make honey harvesting possible.
As time went by, people realized that it was a better idea to manage or “keep bees”. This ensured an ongoing supply of honey without the effort of finding a wild hive. A closer relationship with the honey bee developed.
Over 4,500 years ago, early beekeeping was being practiced in Egypt. Artifacts of man-made clay pipe hives have been discovered. Ancient wall drawings feature an Egyptian beekeeper using smoke on his hives.
Mankind was learning how to keep bees and harvest honey without destroying the bee family.
What is an Apiarist?
This fancy term is applied to people who keep honey bees. An apiarist is a beekeeper. The word is derived from the Latin word “Apis” meaning bee.
Beekeeping is Farming
This may sound like an outrageous idea to those not familiar with beekeeping. However, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) classifies honey bees are 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 make use of an 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.
Getting Stung is A Fact of Life for Beekeepers
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.
The White Beekeeper Suit
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!
Are Beekeepers Good for Bees?
The 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.
Good Honey Bee Management Practices
Like everything else in life, there are good beekeepers and some that are not so good. But, even the best, most responsible beekeepers do kill some bees.
Routine colony inspections are necessary in order to maintain healthy productive bees. The gentlest beekeeper will occasionally squish some bees during hive management.
This is difficult for those of us who care about every single bee. However, “the good of the many – outweighs the good of the few” – some are harmed so the colony can go on as a healthy whole.
A Beekeeper’s Salary
This brings a smile to my face because the vast majority of beekeepers do not make good money. It is rewarding but hard work.
There are easier ways to make a living. But 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. New beekeepers are often looking for bees to purchase. This type of endeavor requires a more start up money and has more risk involved.
If you are considering having your own bee business, start slow. Learn before you expect to earn. There are many online resources to help you get started. My online beekeeping class is one option for those who want to begin right away.
What Beekeepers Do for Bees!
- 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
Finding Local Beekeepers
Perhaps you may be thinking – are there any beekeepers near me? Any 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.
The Importance of Beekeepers in a Nutshell
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.