Most people begin keeping bees for the honey. After all, nothing compares to the sweet taste of the glistening liquid, warm and fragrant from the hive. But people stay in beekeeping year after year for other reasons. In fact, honey may drop lower and lower on the list while fascination with honey bees spirals forever upward.
A competent beekeeper must know about bees, but to truly understand them requires knowledge of their environment as well. Beginners who know very little about the natural world soon become interested in the weather, daily temperatures, rainfall, the biology of flowering plants, and the consequence of pesticides. Within months they are talking of nectar flows, dearths, humidity fluctuations, and pollen types. They are introduced to botany, entomology, and agriculture. If nothing else, beekeeping pulls you into the natural environment and makes you aware of things you never considered.
Then too, there are other creatures that inhabit the hive, not ones you want but ones you have to handle. There are predators, parasites, pests, and pathogens, all of which must be managed along with the bees themselves. You will learn about the lifestyles of these living things and how they integrate into the life of your honey bees. It may seem intimidating at first, but their complex association with your colony is as amazing as the bees themselves.
Beekeeping is not a craft you can master in a season, ten seasons, or a lifetime. Talk to life-long beekeepers and they will tell you what they just discovered, what they witnessed for the first time, or what new device they just invented. The learning part of beekeeping never ends. Many famous minds have been intrigued by honey bees, spending decades trying to unravel the secrets of the hive. Aristotle, Mendel, Pythagoras, Hippocrites, and Jefferson were all enchanted by these mysterious creatures, and remained so for their entire lives.
It has been said that honey bees are the second most studied creature on the planet, right after human beings. This estimate, based on the sheer number of papers, articles, and books published about the honey bee, is a testament to mankind’s enchantment with this amazing creature. If you become a beekeeper, you will never run out of things to read, learn, discuss, or argue. One thing I can promise is that beekeeping is never boring.
Even though honey is the most obvious product of the hive, beekeepers soon discover the many amazing materials collected and manufactured by the honey bee. Pollen, propolis, beeswax, royal jelly, and venom are all products that can be collected, used or sold by the beekeeper, or given away as gifts. Honey can be fermented into mead, and your colonies can be used to pollinate crops and gardens, orchards and meadows.
Whether you enjoy home crafts, woodworking, architecture, or code writing, your passion can find a home in beekeeping. Modern beekeepers use skills honed by the pharaohs, the latest Bluetooth technology, and everything in between. You can decide for yourself if you want to employ old ways or modern ones, or some combination unique to you.
Many people find that beekeeping helps them stay active and in good physical health. Some beekeepers make the rounds of their hives daily, climbing hills, walking across fields, or meandering wherever their bees take them. In fact, physical activity is required for many aspects of beekeeping, including inspections, handling of supers, extracting, and winter preparation. If you like to build your own equipment, you can spend even more time hauling, lifting, sawing, and hammering.
And it’s not just the bees that provide exercise. Many beekeepers plant for their bees, anything from entire fields to flower pots. All of it gets you outside and into the heart of nature. Those moments away from the desk and the computer screen become welcome respites from the digital world.
As strange as it sounds, none of the above comes close to the joy beekeepers get from simply watching their bees. Every beekeeper talks about the peace, tranquility, and calm they experience as they sit by their hives watching nature in action, and admiring the busy-ness and industry of their bees as they prepare for the winter ahead. Others like to watch bees in the garden as they travel from flower to flower loading up on pollen and nectar with a singleness of purpose we treasure.
Regardless of the reason for your first hive, it you stay with it, I can guarantee the admiration you develop for your bees will eclipse all other motivations. A love for bees is the only reason you need to stay with it for a lifetime.