Thinking outside the proverbial bee box

Cottonwood farmer and beekeeper Rick Rocha. (Courtesy photo)

Cottonwood farmer and beekeeper Rick Rocha. (Courtesy photo)

As a local beekeeper I have people all the time -- ALL THE TIME, texting, emailing, telling me at meetings and during presentations, “I want to have bees.” “I always wanted to be a beekeeper.” “Will you put some of your bees on my property?”

Long story is … I don’t find myself going on and on as much anymore as I used to. I have said the same story so many times I can speak it without even thinking about it. “Do you have experience or have you had lessons in beekeeping?” “Do you have a mentor to work with?” “Beekeeping and the equipment is costly in time and money. Are you aware of that?”

“Beekeeping is a lot of work and you’ll need to check on the bees regularly.” And on and on and on I used to go ... The short story is, now I just roll my eyes and nod my head. I have found that most people, when they find out what’s involved in beekeeping, will quickly decide, “NO, maybe I don’t want to do that.”

Recently, I’ve met a persistent fella. He has been texting, calling and leaving me messages for two years now. He recently sent me pictures and said, “I bought my own equipment. Will you come look at it and help me get started beekeeping?”

He said he is now working on an organic farm and would love to have his own bees, and mine if I have any that need a place to stay. I think I only went to see his boxes because I was going to be in the area.

But boy, was I glad I did. I can’t remember a time meeting anyone so excited to start beekeeping. He had done his homework, watched YouTube videos and asked me about the beekeeping classes I teach.

He said he was on the local beekeepers’ group list but hadn’t attended any meetings yet. And he was just one heck of a nice guy.

When I saw his hive boxes stacked, I immediately thought, “OH NO. This won’t work.” And that even came out of my mouth. I explained that his boxes weren’t built ‘to code.’

Then changed that to, “They are not standard, and here’s why it would be difficult to work with them.” Then I went on and on and on... As I was speaking I was also listening to myself, and asking myself, “Well, who programmed you so well?” I have since been rethinking this whole episode which brought me to exploring different ways and configurations of beekeeping.

I watched a YouTube video of a beekeeper in Japan who raised bees in frameless boxes, and gently and oh-so caringly cut out each piece of comb with honey to lovingly preserve.

Then another video I watched had a man covering his nearly naked body with nothing more than smoke, smoke and more smoke, and going into a small cave to hand-harvest a bucket of seasonal honey for his village.

Other people are beekeeping in mini-hives, and in natural or hand-carved logs. Some people work like machines in their mass production of harvesting honey. Others patiently work with a couple of backyard hives.

A recent Facebook post of a cabinet holding a hive, with a side door opening was really intriguing. I thought this would be a perfect way for me to keep bees and harvest just what I needed for specific purposes and times for myself and my clients.

There are so many ways to keep bees. Not just in a Langstroth hive, not just in a top bar hive, and not just in Warre hives. There are many options beyond our imagination. I started asking myself when and why I was so programmed to believe that we need to keep bees in a certain type of box, in a certain size, and a certain formation, aimed in a certain direction, at a certain height and a specific color?

I’m hoping that next time I hear myself regurgitating that beekeeping can only be done in one exact standard way that I catch myself thinking before my big mouth opens and discourages beekeeping in any form.

Notes to self: 1) There are many ways to keep bees. And 2) Always be kind and encouraging to future beekeepers. We need them.

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