Updated and completely rewritten in 2019.
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 want to learn how to keep bees but don’t want to join the NLBKA or can’t afford it, there are many alternatives available to them.
Any of the websites maintained by Rusty Burlew, David Burns, Randy Oliver, Michael Bush or Ron Miksha should provide more than enough practical information on honey bees and beekeeping to help anyone get started.
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 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 inconvenient 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, the Bee-L Listserv 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 online 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 in my own little way. Maybe. Who knows?
Most of the above alternatives to joining a beekeeping association are available for free to everyone, which can be a welcomed break for people who can’t afford the NLBKA’s $100+ AGMs and annual membership fee on top of their already hefty beekeeping expenses.
I first got into beekeeping in 2010, long before there was a provincial beekeeping association, and I did fine without it. So can you — if you want to. That being said, I understand the desire to be a part of a beekeeping association and I won’t fault anyone for joining the NLBKA. It’s not what I’m looking for in a beekeeping association, but hey, I get it. My point is that 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.
A list of all the resources mentioned above:
• Honey Bee Suite
• Beekeeping lessons by David Burns
• Scientific Beekeeping
• Michael Bush’s Beekeeping
• Bad Beekeeping Blog
• Some beekeeping books
• The Beekeeper’s Handbook
• National Honey Show videos
• The University of Guelph beekeeping lessons
• Ian Steppler’s Canadian beekeeper videos
• Backyard Farming & Homesteading NL (on Facebook)
• BeeSource forum
• The Bee-L Listserv
• Worldwide Beekeeping forum
• Mud Songs beekeeping videos
• My Guide to Beekeeping in Newfoundland
Postscript (February 2020): Although never naming names, I’ve said some not-so-nice things about the NLBKA and some of its executive members in the past. I’ve expressed passive-aggressive and barely-veiled criticisms for sure. I regret that my displeasure allowed me to stoop so low, and I’m sorry. I’ve deleted every instance of that from this blog.
For several years, I was virtually the only beekeeper in Newfoundland who did anything online to encourage beekeeping in the province. I also did everything I could during those years to promote the creation of a beekeeping association because I was always desperate to talk shop with other beekeepers. When the NLBKA finally came together around 2015, I could tell from the start it was allowing things to happen that would probably create division among some beekeepers, in both hobbyists and commercial operators alike. I did what I could to influence change in the way the association operated, but the NLBKA still went on to become something that, well, just didn’t work for me. After so many years of wishing for a beekeeping association, I felt disillusioned. It’s not that the NLBKA’s executive is full of horrible people who don’t know what they’re doing, but, in its current form, it feels like a black cup of coffee to me, and I prefer the smooth taste of a little cream. A little cream goes a long way.
In any case, I should have never criticised the NLBKA or its original executive members the way I did. I’m sorry that my disappointment, or my different taste in coffee, got the best of me. That being said, people who are new to beekeeping in Newfoundland shouldn’t feel like they’re missing out on anything vital to the success of their beekeeping if they don’t join the NLBKA. Like I said, I did fine without it and so can you (if that’s your cup of tea — I mean coffee). The alternatives that I mentioned above are excellent starting points for new beekeepers in Newfoundland who, for whatever reasons, don’t want to join the NLBKA or simply can’t afford it. It’s perfectly okay to take a different path.