A fun look at the realities of beekeeping (especially if you attempt modern commercial methods)
Many of my web visitors are soon-to-be beekeepers preparing for their first delivery of honey bees. They have read, attended classes, and talked to other beekeepers. Some write to me with a few last-minute questions. But what they envision and what I foresee are completely different.
I was reminded of this beekeeping reality while watching a beginner video on YouTube. While sappy music played in the background, a lilting voice explained that once you become a beekeeper you will embrace nature for the first time! You will become attuned to weather and blooms! You will blossom as a person!
Wow. I imagine a barefoot flower child romping through a verdant meadow, a ring of daisies in her hair and a bouquet of dandelions clutched in her fist. Beekeeping is your entry into a world of peace and love and grass stains. Kumbaya in a box.
Selling an image
Beekeepers who are frantically pushing their books or e-courses spout all this nonsense with a straight face. Ah! The wonders of becoming one with the insects. None of them explain that beekeeping degrades your personal standards. Your table manners erode. Your language goes to hell. Your housekeeping falters. And your tolerance for sticky and gooey takes a turn for the worse. You become unforgivably messy, and your definition of what is “gross” defies social norms.
Family values take on new meaning
Once you get your bees, that pulsating mound of venom becomes the most important member of your family. The side yard where the kids used to play is off limits. The cat can no longer lounge in her favorite sun spot. The dog’s water bowl is full of insects. Blooming weeds are sacrosanct, and your partner can no longer mow in the middle of the day. Life as your family used to know it evaporates because, as everyone knows, you mustn’t bother the bees.
It doesn’t take long before everything in your home is gooey. Before you began your beekeeping adventure, you believed that honey was sticky. But honey, easily neutralized with water, doesn’t hold a candle to propolis, beeswax, and pollen. You have no idea. I gleefully await your first encounter with a glistening wad of propolis on a hot day. Tee hee.
One day last year, while carrying a sack of groceries and finding himself unable to release his hand from the front door, my husband reached his limit. After giving me the look, he drenched a rag in alcohol and said, “This morning I got stuck on the barn door. And if you haven’t noticed, your tailgate is attracting flies.” Oops.
Within a few days, he replaced every door knob on the property with a lever handle. The new rule: When coming inside, I am never to touch the levers. Instead, I must open them with my elbows which, for the most part, are free from bee “stuff.”
Your language will deteriorate
I’ve heard it called “bee language.” Bee language is an apt description because it is universally understood by all beekeepers. It consists of short, staccato words, strung together randomly, using only one punctuation mark! Delivered in loud outbursts or softly under one’s breath, these words are concise evaluations of your present circumstance. In English, they usually run four-letters in length, and often begin with consonants such as f, s, or d.
Your personal appearance will regress
Once upon a time, I was vainly particular about my appearance. A spot on my outfit was humiliating beyond words. Imagine wearing your food on your shirt! But recently, before a quick trip to Home Depot, I examined my clothes in a mirror. Well, the propolis stain across my stomach wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was barely noticeable if I held my arm in front of it. For a brief moment, I considered tying my left arm in a sling.
As a teenager, a zit on my face would have sent me into hiding. But now I examine the red welt on my chin and decide it looks like a mosquito bite. No big deal. After closer inspection, I scrape the stinger from the center. There! Good as new. Nowadays, as long as my eyes aren’t swollen shut, I’m good to go.
Messiness knows no bounds
If you plan to lead a neat and orderly life, you have no business being a beekeeper. Personally, I no longer have the space to be neat.
Today, as I glance around my once pristine kitchen, I see piles of honeycombs, some in frames and some not. There are honeycombs stacked on my dining room table, and piled in, on, and beneath the cupboards. They take up the space next to the refrigerator and the mixer. They completely cover the cutting board and fill the broiler pan. Others are stacked in my office and garage.
My shed, once neat and organized, is filled with bags of beeswax, buckets of old candy board, canisters of propolis, and stacks of end bars, nails, and assorted hive tools. The floor and windowsills are littered with dead bees and frame scrapings. Each time I decide to clean it up, I can’t figure out where to start, so I don’t. This is not the me I grew up with.
A purpose for pocketses
Worse, I have things in my pockets, things no normal woman carries in pockets. A queen cell. A dead bumble bee. A crushed flower to identify. Some kind of thing that was crawling on my top bars. A screw driver. A test tube. A few seeds.
Even when I try to do things right, I often fail. One day, I swept through the garage with my bee suit and said, “Hey Rich, I’m going to wash this. Do you have anything else for the load?” He looked as if I lost my mind. “With that? Are you kidding?” This hurt my feelings. Apparently, he believes his filthy, oily car rags are no match for my bee suit.
About the freezer
The freezer, which used to hold food, has also become a point of contention. My freezer now contains honey, swarm lures, mite meds of various styles, pollen pellets, queen pheromones, and pollen patties. It also contains test tubes full of native bees and wasps, vials (viles) of parasites, and samples of frass. But the real backlash occurred when I began freezing frames of drone larvae. Apparently, when someone is looking for dinner, rafts of frozen, mite-infested drone larvae don’t spark the appetite. Who knew?
Your purchasing habits change
As a beekeeper, you buy strange things. A truckload of sugar is questionable. A case of isopropyl alcohol is odd. A case of EverClear is downright weird. I used to feel compelled to explain my purchases to people who stared. Now I want to say, “If you don’t like it, don’t look!” No wonder Amazon is my friend. I now buy everything in plain brown boxes.
Lastly, you have neighbors. They used to be your friends, but now you hide when you see them. You live in fear they will complain about your bees stinging, chasing their grandchildren, pooping on their laundry, or drinking from their pool. If cornered, you pretend you haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.
But rather than being cornered, you cross the street to avoid passing, change grocery stores, and move your bank account. You put in automatic sprinklers so you don’t have to stand outside with a hose in hand, you walk your dog at night, and you park your car in the garage. You wonder what happened to you, why you’ve become so antisocial, but the answer is simple. You became a beekeeper.
Should you skip it?
Am I trying to convince you to avoid beekeeping? Not a chance. I’m just saying that beekeeping isn’t all sweetness and light. It’s so much more fun than that! And it may be the most remarkable life-changing experience in your entire existence—whether for better or for worse.
Honey Bee Suite