There’s been a lot of talk lately among local beekeepers about adjusting our beekeeping practices so that we’re raising and–importantly–sharing honey bees that are, to the extent possible, better adapted to our local conditions.
The idea is that as we re-queen hives and manage their populations over generations, we’re selecting for desirable traits (hygiene, workability, honey production) as well as for bee genetics that do well in our area.
Traits such as the willingness to fly in cloudy weather, for example.
We started as most new beekeepers do, with packages purchased from suppliers who bring them in from out of state. The journey itself is stressful, but of more concern is the fact that these package bees often come from commercial operations that have different priorities and different management practices than hobby beekeepers.
This isn’t a rant against the commercial folks, among which there examples of better and worse practices, but the realities of keeping thousands of hives rather than just a few does mean that decisions about, say, mite treatments will be different. And even if you luck out with a particular package, you still don’t really know where those bees have been. Commercial agriculture is pretty hard on honeybee populations, and if the bees you buy have been previously working as pollinators, they’ve been exposed to things that could potentially weaken them.
Side note: And this is why I want my neighbors to practice Integrated Pest Management, because all we can do as backyard beekeepers is make suggestions, via hive location, about where we want our bees to forage. While we’re on the topic, get rid of the grass and put in some pollinator forage!
All of this is to say that if we had it to do over again, I’d contact folks locally to purchase bees.
If you’re thinking about keeping bees, there are all kinds of reasons to reach out to your local beekeeping community, but this is a really good one.
With any luck, it will set you up for success by giving you healthier bees and access to people who know more than you do. Beekeeping has a steep learning curve–would that it were all soft-focus images of happy foragers on a warm summer day!–and anything you learn ahead of acquiring that first colony will stand you in good stead.
One of the great pleasures of keeping bees is a more direct connection to a hyper-local ecology. (Seriously, keep bees and you will never again looks at the weeds in your neighborhood in quite the same way.)
Contact with beekeepers in your area plugs you into the human dimension of this network, enriching your experience and encouraging awareness of sound beekeeping practices.
That’s good for all of us, no matter where we are.