This is my cautionary tale for people who probably shouldn’t bother with beekeeping. If “it doesn’t take much time” is the final selling point for you, maybe you should just walk away right now and save yourself the sinking feeling of realising that beekeeping isn’t the wonderful world of golden flowing honey that simply falls from a tap on the side of your beehive while bees gently hover around you in a state of joy and bliss. That may be the idealistic vision of beekeeping that draws most people in, and at the very beginning if absolutely nothing goes wrong, that dream may at times seem like a reality, an experience so wonderful that you barely believe you’re living it. But those are fleeting moments. They don’t tell the whole story. There’s more to having chickens than collecting the eggs. There’s more to owning a dog than playing fetch. Sometimes it gets kind of dirty. Often it gets kind of dirty. And if you think you can care for a dog and raise chickens in your spare time, I’d like to know what world you’re living in. Because beekeeping isn’t that much different.
A swarm of bees hanging off a tree branch. (June 17, 2012.)
April 2019 Introduction: I’ve rewritten and updated this post since it was originally written in 2013. You can read it or just skip the whole thing and browse through Rusty Burlew’s bookshelf instead.
I was asked by someone in Newfoundland about what books they could read before they get into beekeeping as a hobby. I don’t think you need to read any books. Seriously. If you know how use the internet, you don’t need to buy any of the standard overpriced beekeeping books that are popular these days. Save yourself some money and turn on your computer instead.
There’s a boatload of beekeeping videos on YouTube. Videos posted by the National Honey Show are world class beekeeping presentations from some of the biggest heavy hitters in the beekeeping world. They probably go a bit too deep for absolute beginners, but it probably doesn’t hurt to have them on the radar. The University of Guelph produces more beginner-friendly videos from its beeyards that are also well worth checking out. Ian Steppler’s beekeeping videos out of Manitoba are exactly the kind of videos I would post if I was a commercial beekeeper. I’m pretty sure I’ll never have the resources to keep bees on that level, but if I ever thought about hitting the big time, I’d be all over his videos. Even as a backyard beekeeper, I’ve learned quite a lot from him. A simple search on Twitter (and other social media apps) for beekeeping also reveals all kinds of fascinating information about beekeeping.
The internet is an invaluable tool for new beekeepers, especially in a place like Newfoundland where there aren’t many beekeepers and where it’s not easy to meet up with other beekeepers. All of my beekeeping mentors are beekeepers I’ve gotten to know online (none from Newfoundland, sorry to say). Most of what I’ve learned about beekeeping, outside of my direct experience with the bees, I’ve learned online. Beekeeping associations, beekeeping workshops, beekeeping books — none of them are necessary for anyone with a connection to the internet who pays attention to their bees. But let’s get back to the question: What books are useful for new beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland (or for people keeping bees in a similar cold climate)? Continue reading →
There is a public assumption that joining the Newfoundland & Labrador Beekeeping Association (the NLBKA) is the best way to begin one’s beekeeping journey in Newfoundland. But that’s not always the case. For people in Newfoundland who just want to become good beekeepers but don’t want to join the NLBKA or can’t afford it, there are plenty of alternatives available to them:
There’s a ton of reading material out there, both online and in print, but The Beekeeper’s Handbook may be the most comprehensive and affordable single-volume guide to beekeeping I’ve ever read, so that might be something worth reading, just to get the ball rolling.
The YouTube videos posted by the National Honey Show are world class beekeeping presentations from some of the biggest heavy hitters in the beekeeping world. They may go a bit too deep for absolute beginners, but it probably doesn’t hurt to have them on the radar. The University of Guelph produces more beginner-friendly videos from its beeyards that also also might be worth checking out.
Ian Steppler’s beekeeping videos out of Manitoba are exactly the kind of videos I would post if I was a commercial beekeeper. I’ll likely never have the money or the land to keep bees on a commercial level, but if I ever thought about hitting the big time, I’d be all over his videos. Even as a backyard beekeeper, I’ve learned quite a lot from him.
Due to the province’s sparse population and ridiculous geographical expanse, it’s difficult for prospective beekeepers in Newfoundland to find even the most basic beekeeping workshop, but talking with at least one beekeeper and seeing some bees up close and personal might be the best first step. Locally, the Backyard Farming & Homesteading NL Facebook page is a friendly place to ask people about their beekeeping experiences (and to meet up with other beekeepers). So is the BeeSource forum and the Worldwide Beekeeping forum (where many beekeepers from Atlantic Canada regularly contribute).
And finally, for the truly desperate, we have my beekeeping videos which, as far as I know, are the only ones on planet earth that thoroughly document what it’s like to get into beekeeping as a backyard beekeeper in Newfoundland.
My lofty goal for the videos and everything I post on this stupendous blog is to be honest about my mistakes while documenting what actually seems to work so that others might learn from me without being told what to do. An intuitive intelligence for beekeeping can come to light through experiential teaching and learning. My intention is to provide space for people to ‘get it.’ I hope that’s what I do.
Most of the above alternatives to joining a beekeeping association are available for free to everyone, which is a nice break for people who can’t afford the NLBKA’s $100+ AGMs and annual membership fee on top of their already hefty beekeeping expenses. Most of the above (not just my stuff) represents thousands of hours of unpaid work given to the public for the pleasure of it, and I know by talking with many new beekeepers that it often provides a better option than what’s currently offered through the NLBKA which seems more concerned at times with its façade of authority than with helping people with the practical matters of getting into beekeeping.
I don’t think the NLBKA is all it’s made out to be. I’m not completely against it, but I know too many good beekeepers who have been thoroughly repelled by a certain element within the association over the years — and I’m obviously one of them. I can’t pretend to ignore that any longer (I’ve tried). Nevertheless, there are some important beekeeping initiatives being brought forward by the association that shouldn’t be dismissed. I doubt any of those initiatives are going to win back all the beekeepers who’ve walked away from the NLBKA over the years, but maybe they will once certain gatekeepers step aside and some new blood has a chance to circulate. I hope so.
Either way, new or prospective beekeepers shouldn’t feel pressured to join the NLBKA. It’s not the end of the world if they don’t join. Many people in Newfoundland continue to become excellent, well-informed beekeepers without having anything to do with the provincial beekeeping association. And that’s okay.