Pam Jones, completely retired but as busy as ever, is an active blogger who follows other bloggers, too – including one in Denver who happened upon a beehive in her yard and ended up becoming a beekeeper. Reading all about it got Pam interested in these creatures, so she stopped by to see a live bee demonstration at a nearby wildlife center and learned about her county’s beekeeper association winter training. She enrolled and attended its 6 classes that included not just speakers but some hands-on equipment-building. Pam adds,
And you spend one afternoon at someone’s bee yard, handling frames of bees, looking for the queen, and listening to more yak yak yak about bees. There’s a HUGE amount of yak yak yak about bees. I think that’s part of the lure.
The class finished just in time for Pam to prepare for the arrival of her new hive in April of ’10, which she documented on her blog, along with many more events in this continuing bee saga - all here under the label “bees“. In those 51 blog posts (and counting) Pam relates not just the how-to (and there’s a LOT to learn about honeybees and keeping them alive and productive), but the emotional highs, lows, and horror stories, too. (Like “My Bees Behaved Badly on Thursday“.)
Her bees haven’t swarmed YET, but the fear of swarms never goes away because apparently they’re inevitable. “And how to deal with a swarm is a very complicated business. AND it can involve neighbors, potentially angry neighbors. Certainly scared neighbors.” Another worry that hasn’t materialized YET is hive death due to mysterious causes, or “a hive death due to an identifiable disease that could possibly have been prevented by using chemicals, which I don’t use (yet).”
Though there’s been plenty that’s happened to worry about, like the “bees clinging to the screen porch, watching me“, and signs of possible swarming while kids are playing nearby (big worry, that one).
Still, with all the worrying, how does she feel about her bees after almost a year as their keeper?
Well, I love my bees. I love watching them, and I love learning about them. I like building the frames and hive boxes. I’ve melted some wax and played around with that, which is fun. I’ve dissected dead bees. I’ve been stung a number of times. I check out the beehive first thing in the morning (it’s just outside my bedroom window). But it never occurred to me that I would feel so overwhelmed by them. So out of control, and yet the hive is (apparently) strong and healthy so there you go.I’m still a bit nervous around them, which is my big unexpected reaction to all of this. I’m nervous that I’ll do something wrong and someone in the neighborhood will get stung. A very, very unlikely thing to happen. I’ve also discovered that you have to be physically strong to keep bees, and a back injury can bring it all to a halt.
What it all costs, and the first- year goal
The class costs $60 and Pam spent $210 total for equipment, most of that for hardware and other items that should last for years, and $90 of it for a nuc, which is a mini-hive (one queen, many workers, some larvae, some honey) that you buy from another beekeeper. “Beekeepers typically sell nucs in the spring, so the new ‘owner’ will have one full summer coming up to help the hive get larger and larger. That’s the goal the first year — to keep the workers happy enough that they will keep the queen happy enough that she will lay lots of eggs.”
Help for beginning beekeepers
Pam’s beekeeper association urges members to mentor new beekeepers and by golly, they do. For her the mentoring has included many phone calls, and even a house call or two. She gets lots more help at the group’s monthly meetings. And then there’s reading:
I spend a fair amount of time reading about bees — there are lots of good books, some of them very old, and a couple of monthly mags. Blogs are great for beekeeping I think. Especially if you find a blog in your geographic area. You can compare notes on day to day weather conditions and bee behavior, which is huge in the bee world.
Where’s the honey?
Some beekeepers would say that I have not yet experienced the best thing about beekeeping and that’s eating the honey my colony produces – because in the first year of beekeeping most people don’t harvest honey, at the risk of starving the bees over the winter. I don’t really like honey, but I do look forward to trying some of “mine.”
Pam Jones is thoroughly enjoying retirement after decades writing and editing for the National Institutes of Health. Now she writes three blogs: Pamela-J, My Love Weeds, and My Lovely Worms. In the photo – taken at Jon Stewart’s Rally for Sanity – that’s my hand draped over her shoulder.