Monday, June 23, 2014

The Day I Became a Beekeeper

For the record, today is the 9th of June, 2014. Normally, Blogger automatically throws dates on posts, so it's not something I generally note. However, today is different. I'm writing, but I don't know when -- or if -- I'll publish this post. However, Wordsworth wrote about, "emotions recollected in tranquility" to describe his poetic process. I like that description. It seems to me that certain events, thoughts, feelings have to be set down so that one can remember them, but it may take awhile for those memories to ripen before they're ready to be shared. I'm noting the date because this is one of those times.

Approximately two weeks from today will mark my first anniversary with bees. One should take time to acknowledge milestones, don't you think? It's hard to imagine that a year is already behind me, and a new one is starting.

My first summer, I bumbled my way through the hive. By turns, I reacted to situations in the beeyard with pleasure, curiosity, paranoia, elation, frustration, worry... I was a roller coaster of emotion. If the bees were booming, I was ecstatic, but then I fretted constantly they might swarm. Every queen cup was full of dread. I gloried in teeny bee feet tickling my skin. I wasted hours zooming in on photos of comb to see if I'd missed something significant during an inspection. I drove like a drunk while trying to note what was blooming in road ditches. Erractic behavior was not limited to myself alone. My poor husband was forced to mow crops circles around the clover, dandelions, and flowering weeds in our lawn. I admit all this without shame because if you're a new beek, or have been a new beek at one time, you understand this insanity.

My DH is indeed one of the most supportive men I know. All summer, he listened indulgently to non-stop obsessive prattle about bees and did an excellent job maintaining an appearance of attention. Most of my chatter was simple thinking out loud. Should I do this? Will I muck it up if I do that? Why are the bees doing this? Why won't they do that? Why won't the bees just read the book? Are they defective? It was autumn before I learned to give up any illusion of control and trust that the bees knew what they were doing. Then November and bears came, and I had no bees, so my new-found peace was for naught. 

Winter came and went. Early spring was spent preparing the hives for new bees. Passersby would express interest in the preparations going on in my garage and driveway. I'd talk to them about bees, but I balked at calling myself a "beekeeper." To take on the name of something implies that one possesses the qualities of that name. Was I really a "beekeeper"? I might have the jacket and veil, but I didn't have bees. I couldn't even get mine through to the end of autumn, much less the winter. So when people asked, I'd always say, "I kept bees" or "I had bees." The line was drawn though; I was not a beekeeper.

Real beekeepers (at least the ones I looked up to) not only had bees, they had decades of experience and loads of info tucked away in every nook and cranny of their brains. By contrast, I was a pretender. I knew enough about beekeeping to answer basic questions, but I also knew just enough to know the depths of my ignorance. It was with this uncertainty that I attended my local beekeeping club's meeting in May. When I signed in, I had to choose either a red name tag (for new beeks) or a blue one (for experienced beeks). Perplexed, I told them that I didn't know which one to choose. A lady asked me, "Well, do you have bees?" I answered that I did have them once upon a time, but that they'd been destroyed by my local wildlife. She laughed, "Well, that's definitely experience. Take a blue tag!" Excellent! I had graduated to the rank of PWABT --Pretender With A Blue Tag.

Two weeks ago, while picking up my packages, I had the most delightful conversation with Sam Comfort, who is a rock star in the natural beekeeping community. This impression is heightened by the fact that Anarchy Apiaries possesses a wonderfully rebellious name. Also, he's under 60 and has all his hair. I mean no disrespect to the silvery-haired crowd (especially since I'm rapidly becoming one of this number). It's simply unusual from what I've observed in the beekeeping world to see 1) someone his age and 2) someone his age with so much experience. (Note to self: Write a post comparing well-known beeks to famous rock stars. Sounds fun, right?) But I digress. We arranged to meet at a coffee shop. Of course, I recognized him immediately from online images. However, he'd never seen me before, so it was a surprise when he stepped through the door and picked me out immediately. His task was possibly made easier because I was the only one in the place hopping up and down like a kid on Christmas. Later, though, he mentioned reading my blog, so maybe that was it.

BTW, did I tell you he mentioned reading my blog? I played nonchalant as if I have a million readers, but I could feel the blush of simultaneous thrill and mortification. When someone mentions/comments on my blog, there is always the joy of discovering that I haven't been shouting into the void. On the other hand, we're talking about Sam Comfort reading my blog! This is a person with light years of experience ahead of me (and yes, I realize that is a measure of distance, not time, but he far surpasses me in both ways). I shudder to think what he read. Hopefully, it wasn't too silly. However, he had only the kindest of words and lots of encouragement, but my own insecurities continually peck through the shell of my bravado because that's just how we introverts roll.

This past Saturday, on the 7th of June, our beekeeping club had its annual picnic, and Sam was our guest speaker. Since I'm considering experimenting with Warres next year, I cornered him with some questions. Again, he mentioned my blog, but this time he referenced a new post, so through a Holmesian process of deduction, I knew he must've read it recently. (Really? Wow!) He also paid me the most generous compliment possible -- more than I deserve really. He voiced his concern that Warres weren't a good hive for beginners because they don't provide enough opportunity to learn from the bees, "but," he continued, "you should go for it. You've got a good handle on things." Did I hear that right? Did Sam just validate me?

On that same afternoon, a guy who runs a beekeeping program at a local community farm asked if I would be willing to consider doing TBH demos and classes there. Now, I don't consider myself an expert on TBH's -- quite the opposite, in fact. I think these sessions would probably go down as the blind being led by the vision impaired. But, gosh! I was just so flattered to be asked, and a total lack of qualifications could do nothing to damper my enthusiasm. So my natural response was, "Absolutely! When can I start?!"

That's when I realized that I'm not just someone who keeps bees anymore; I'm a beekeeper. That's right -- I'm bona fide. (When you read the italicized words, try to hear a sassy Southern twang or it won't mean the same thing.) It also occurred to me that the validation of others is not what makes that statement true. I've finally come to to the understanding (late, of course, because I'm not overly bright) that all the beekeepers I admire and respect have differing approaches, styles, and philosophies. However, they all have something in common, too. They possess a genuine love of bees and a concern for their well-being. When they talk about bees, their energy and excitement brims over and washes the rest of us, sweeping us up with them. It's not the clothes or smoker that makes a beekeeper. It's not the ability to catch a swarm, find a queen, or overwinter a hive. Instead, being a beek is all about heart.

For me, it's a privilege and an honor to rub elbows with the people at my local bee club, in online beekeeping forums, and through personal blogs. They are some of the most helpful, generous, passionate, opinionated people I've ever had the good fortune to meet. As cheesy and corny as this may sound, it's our commonly held enthusiasm for the endlessly fascinating creatures in our beeyards that pulls us together as a community. A community, I daresay, of beekeepers.


  1. Being British I am obviously not prone to excessive responses, stiff upper lip and all that. BUT to borrow your southern twang "You go girlfriend", or something similar. A really nice post, from a PROPER Beekeeper.


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