Last summer, while spending long days ripping out the grass in the backyard, I delighted in the honeybee visitors who spent time in our yard. Often, I’d stop and observe them buzzing around the apple blossoms, the lavender, the coneflowers, and all the rest, making mental notes about which flowers they seemed to prefer and adding those plants to my list of future garden additions.
Somehow, this turned into a need to have some hives of our own.
This past weekend, we spent two full days–16 hours in total–at an intensive beekeeping course for beginners. Then we came home and ordered bees. And hives, frames, bee suits, and all the rest, to be picked up this weekend and assembled. Our bees are scheduled to arrive on April 15.
And so it begins!
The course we took, offered through Urban Bee Supplies in Delta and Victoria, BC, was a wonderful introduction to the world of beekeeping–and a good investment in our future as newbie beekeepers. Our instructors, Lindsay Dault and Julia Common, made the course as engaging as it was informative. We covered basics such as honeybee biology, including mating, swarming, hive hierarchy, and life cycles; signs of disease or other problems; necessary equipment, along with some nice-to-have sorts of things; winterizing hives; and a beekeeping calendar for our region.
Truly, though, the instructors made the course. A course for beginners should explain important concepts in accessible ways and help participants build knowledge and start to see how topics relate to each other, without overwhelming them with an excessive amount of complication.
Oh, yeah, and get learners excited about learning more!
On all counts, Lindsay and Julia excelled. Both have an incredible depth of knowledge about bees and beekeeping, but they kept their explanations at a level that beginners were able to follow and benefit from. (My husband grew up with a beekeeping father, but I’m a total newbie.) Course components flowed from one segment to the next, helping us lay a foundation for the theoretical and practical parts of the craft. Perhaps most importantly, though, their enthusiasm for bees and beekeeping was infectious.
At the end of the course, I came away thinking that taking up beekeeping maybe wasn’t such a crazy idea after all.
In addition to an introduction to the nuts and bolts of beekeeping in the PNW, my big-picture takeaways from the course were:
- Insight into honeybee biology and how our knowledge of their needs should guide our interventions into the hive and its ecology.
- Respect for the resiliency of honeybees and fascination with our connection to them throughout centuries, mixed with dismay over the fact that the problems they face are due in no small part to human meddling.
- Excitement about the chance to observe these fascinating creatures up close, an enthusiasm that explains pretty much all of my hobbies and other peculiarities.
We ordered Carniolan bees for their willingness to forage even on overcast days (of which we have a few in this region), rather than the Italian bees commonly sold in the United States. (Although we took the class in BC, bringing live insects across the border isn’t permitted, so we ordered bees from a supplier on the Olympic Peninsula.)
The amount I don’t know about bees and beekeeping is staggering and a little sobering, but I feel a tad obsessed at the moment. I’m going to take that as a good sign.
In the meantime, here’s a resource guide, with an emphasis on beekeeping in Northwest Washington.
The Backyard Beekeeper, Kim Flottum (recommended by the instructors)
Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive, Mark L. Winston
Honeybee Democracy, Thomas D. Seeley
The Biology of the Honeybee, Mark L. Winston
Hives for Humanity, Vancouver, BC
Outback Bees (part of WWU’s Outback Farm)
Mt. Baker Beekeepers (Bellingham/Whatcom County)
Puget Sound Beekeepers Association (Seattle)