Master Beekeeper: Are You a Want-to-be-Beekeeper?

Published 12:16 am Saturday, December 26, 2020

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Len VanMarion
Texas Master Beekeeper,
Texas Master Gardener


Have you ever thought about being a beekeeper. Well it’s a wonderful hobby. It pays better than golf  and the honey will cost you less than the Bass you catch when fishing. All joking aside beekeeping is an amazing hobby. It’s a way to observe a society that really works for the benefit of the whole. You will never meet a selfish bee or one that is a bully. There are no Lawyers or Politicians in the bunch. You will however find housekeepers, guards, nurses, field workers and morticians.

Beekeeping is however a bit frustrating as you will surely do things in your efforts to help the bees that will cause them much grief. When you guess correctly and actually help them a feeling of great accomplishment will be your reward. I have kept bees for many years and have lost many hives. U.S. beekeepers loose about half their hives each year. We struggle each year to split hives and build our hive counts. We also struggle to find others interested in beekeeping. Most folks think of getting stung and shy away.

I will admit that you will most likely get stung, for most of us this just results in a very short duration pain and localized swelling. Many people say they are allergic because they were stung and experienced swelling. This local reaction is not a dangerous situation and many people swear the stings will ward off arthritis. There is even a sting therapy that some use. I’m not one of them.

I must say that the first time you open a hive and are able to spot the queen is a feeling you will most likely not forget. I still get excited when I see the queen. I enjoy seeing a brood sheet full of eggs and larva. I like noting the frames full of honey or pollen. In spring the drone cells (male bees) and the queen cells indicate the forthcoming swarms and hive splits.

Orange County has quite a few hobby beekeepers and several beekeeping class opportunities. Most of the hobby keepers are willing to help others and will serve as mentors. Lamar Orange offers a beekeeping class in its continuing education section. The Orange Agrilife Office at the Orange Convention Center also offers some learning opportunities.

I’m a retired Engineer and never liked Biology but honeybees change that. I now research ways to cope with an Asian mite and an African beetle that has invaded the US and is causing havoc with our bees. I have learned to identify plants in an effort to understand nectar and pollen contributors. There are even a few plants around with pollen that is toxic to our bees. I’ve had to learn more about wasp and native species of bees because as a beekeeper the general public considers us experts on all things that sting.

I enjoy speaking to school class and civic organizations. I’ve had to learn about how and when to apply herbicides and insecticides. I’ve invested in lots of gadgets with no value because they looked neat. I’ve bought bee suits that have only been on my body when I speak to a group of youngsters. One particular suit is one that is “Killer Bee” certified.  But all of my misadventures have taught me many lessons and as with most other beekeepers we are willing and anxious to tell others what “not” to buy.

Again, beekeeping is a great hobby, it’s good for the soul, good for the garden and good for your neighbors gardens. If you collect a little honey it’s great for the dinner table.

Give it a try, check on a local class. Call the local Orange County Agrilife office for info.