top of page

Beekeeper Interview Series: Part One


Beekeeper Interview Series: Part One

WE HONOR AND CELEBRATE BEEKEEPERS FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY!

Learn more about these three special beekeepers and follow their beekeeping journey


Avery of San Francisco, CA
Avery of San Francisco, CA

Avery of San Francisco, CA


When did you begin beekeeping?

I began beekeeping the day before Easter 2020, making me a super novice beekeeper.


What got you into beekeeping?

I have always been fascinated by insects, and have wanted a beehive for years. While at boarding school, I was able to help my biology teacher with her hives and officially got hooked.


How many hives do you have?

I have one beehive consisting of two hive bodies and one honey super.


What are the best parts of beekeeping for you? What is your favorite beekeeping memory?

In my opinion, the best part of beekeeping is sitting next to the hive and being with the bees. Each bee has its own little personality, and it is hard not to fall in love with them. Each time I sit by the hive, I notice more tiny details and make complex connections that make me love them even more. 

I think my favorite beekeeping memory would have to be the first time I found the queen. For about a week prior, I had been noticing lots of completely black bees. At the time, we were also studying genetics in my biology calls. I had just done a presentation on haplodiploidy in honey bees, so when we found the queen and was wholly black, it all made sense. It was awesome to learn something in school and have it translate so nicely to something I love so much. 


What are some of the challenges you face?

Being new beekeepers, my family and I tend to feel one step behind. We are learning as we go, so sometimes we don't have the right tools or experience. We have been lucky to be able to lean on the San Francisco beekeeping community and Planet Bee for support. 


Do you have any tips for new beekeepers?

Being a new beekeeper myself, I know how stressful the bees can be at times. Between buying equipment, getting stung, and harvesting honey, it can really be a lot. Just remember, for every minute of work you put into the bees, they will repay you time and time again. Just sit by them and feel the love and community that emanate from the hive. Each drop of honey you taste is them saying that you for all your hard work!


What is one of your craziest beekeeping stories?

My craziest beekeeping story takes place the day we bought and installed the bees. My family and I had been talking about purchasing a hive for a few days. Still, we officially made the decision the day before the bees were supposed to arrive. This did not give us any time to plan, so we had no bee suits to install them. At the time, my dad and I had not fully understood how gentle and mild-mannered honey bees are, so not having suits was a severe point of concern. My dad and I wore fedora hats and draped the mesh bags you put delicates in when doing laundry over our heads. We zipped up in long coats and tucked industrial gloves into the sleeves. Altogether we looked absolutely ridiculous. After the bees were installed and happy, we both realized how absolutely unnecessary the outfits were. Still, I'm glad we wore them if only to crack up at the photos later on.  


Do you practice a unique beekeeping method that might be different than the majority of other beekeepers? If so, what is it? 

I haven't really found my style of beekeeping yet, so I'm not sure about this. I've tried tending the bees without a suit, but given the sheer number of bees, that didn't really work out. I think the only difference between myself and other beekeepers would be the time we spend with our bees. I go out and sit with the bees for about an hour every day, which I feel really helps me connect with them. I know this may be silly, but I think they recognize and trust me. My time with the bees is definitely the highlight of every day and makes me a better beekeeper. 


Anything else you want to add about your experiences!

The one warning I would give to future beekeepers is to expect casualties. I have never been a person to kill bugs, not even flies or mosquitos, so having to step on or squish bees during hive checks has been hard. If you are a person who loves bugs and will be heartbroken to kill them, you may consider helping with a friend's hive check before getting your one, to see if you have the stomach for it. Killing the bees is definitely the worst part about beekeeping :(


Eileen of Ann Arbor, MI
Eileen of Ann Arbor, MI

When did you begin beekeeping?

I started in the spring of 2010 with one hive.


What got you into beekeeping?

I attended a 2-hour talk/demo on beekeeping at Downtown Home and Garden. I came away saying “I could do that.” I didn’t put much thought into the idea, just dove in.


How many hives do you have?

I regularly have two hives in my backyard, which is the limit for the city. I also have hives on six other properties around Ann Arbor.


What are the best parts of beekeeping for you? 

Learning about bees and their deep connection with the landscape is fascinating to me. I also enjoy mentoring. I’m much more observant of nature now, particularly of native bees and wasps. I like keeping track of what forage is available through the seasons.


What is your favorite beekeeping memory?

I had a neighbor (age 5) who, in spite of being stung on the face by several yellow jackets, was fearless around honeybees. He liked to hang out in my yard, chatting with me about flowers, observing bees foraging, and with his face at the hive entrance watching the pollen coming into the hive. He loved picking up drones and letting them crawl on his arm. I enjoyed letting him be close to the hive during inspections. Bottling honey together for him was magical, and he took several small jars as gifts to his extended family. He invited me to present on bees in his kindergarten classroom. I wish all kids could have a positive experience with bees at a young age.


What are some of the challenges you face?

The biggest continuous challenge is managing varroa mite populations within the hive. I use a debris tray so I can monitor the mites and intervene early. In spite of this, as well as treating multiple times with formic acid, the mites persisted this year. I used oxalic acid dribble this fall for the first time.

The other challenge is weaning myself from the package bee industry. I’m hoping that going forward I can rely on splits of overwintered hives, as well as swarms and bait hives, to replenish after winter loss.


Do you have any tips for new beekeepers?

Yes. Consider why you are keeping bees. Most beekeepers are not “saving the bees” and backyard beekeepers are often taught commercial/industrial beekeeping methods. Find an approach that fits with who you are and your view of nature. Don’t blindly follow the loudest voices on social media or the ones who sound authoritative. Wonder. Question. Listen to the bees. I’m so glad I found where I belong in the beekeeping community.


What is one of your craziest beekeeping stories?

I caught a swarm from a Langstroth hive and put it in a top bar hive at the same location. The next morning when I went to check on it, the whole colony was clustered on the outside of the top bar hive. I collected it in the swarm box again and kept it overnight in the basement. The next afternoon I reinstalled it in the top bar hive. And the next morning when I checked, the hive was empty! The bees knew where they wanted to be, and it was not in the hive I intended for them. This year I placed a bait hive on the platform of a deer hunting tree stand, hoping to catch a swarm. I instructed the homeowner to check weekly for bees, and after early July she stopped checking. So it was quite a surprise to find bees had taken up residence in the hive when I went to remove it so it could be used for hunting this fall. I now would like to have bait hives in 4 tree stands and will need to do the monitoring myself.


Eileen of Ann Arbor, MI
Eileen of Ann Arbor, MI

Do you practice a unique beekeeping method that might be different than the majority of other beekeepers? If so, what is it? 

Yes. Early in my first year, I was disappointed in the conventional wisdom being shared with backyard beekeepers. I was inspired by the movie Queen of the Sun where I saw Gunther Hauk and his relationship with the bee. The following year I drove to Spikenard Honeybee Sanctuary in Floyd, VA for three separate 1-day workshops. I was part of the first cohort in Sustainable and Biodynamic Beekeeping at the sanctuary, and have since become a Mentor for their approach. I love how the wisdom of the bee is honored, and everything the beekeeper does is in service to the bee.


Anything else you want to add about your experiences?

Even though I’ve been supporting bees as a gardener all my life, keeping bees and being responsible for their well-being is an honor. The learning curve is steep, and the bees keep teaching me. Every year there is a new learning.


GENEVIEVE of Vancouver, BC

(@genevieve_forrest)


GENEVIEVE of Vancouver, BC  (@genevieve_forrest)
GENEVIEVE of Vancouver, BC (@genevieve_forrest)

When did you begin beekeeping?

My first experience in hives was in 2011. I was head gardener at an estate garden in Vancouver B.C and the owners wanted hives placed in the garden. It was fascinating to me and lots of fun. I did this for two seasons and then left Vancouver for a smaller community about an hour east. 


At this point, my youngest was starting kindergarten and I wanted to add more to my horticulture background. A new commercial beekeeping program was starting at a local university so I enrolled. I was accepted and the rest is history. As of 2016, I have worked as a beekeeper and a bee, plant educator for a local beekeeping company called The Honeybee Centre.


What got you into beekeeping?

My love of plants and pollinators is the number one reason I began my career in beekeeping. I love nothing more than the relationship between pollinators and plants. As well I want to be involved in teaching better ways to treat our environment and farming practices.


How many hives do you have?

Currently, I run around 35 colonies. I was lucky enough to be the assistant beekeeper to the program that I took for two years in which I ran up to 400 hives. Running that many gave me an incredible chance to learn about all the different circumstances you run into but for me, I prefer a smaller operation. I have hives on my property and as well work with Honeybee Centre kids which is the education side of The Honeybee Centre. We have a community garden project with the city teaching children and adults about honeybees, native bees, and the environment they need. I as well teach and make products from the hive. Wax wraps, salves, candles, and of course extracting honey!


What are the best parts of beekeeping for you?

The best part of beekeeping for me is doing something I honestly love and believe in. Farming is so important and it is something we have overlooked as a society. Without pollinators, our food chain will suffer greatly!


What is your favorite beekeeping memory?

WOW.. my favorite memory, there are so many but here's one that stands out. When I was in beekeeping school towards the end of the year we went on a two-week beekeeping tour. We drove throughout British Columbia and into Alberta. We toured everything from large commercial family-run beekeeping operations to Mead producers. I met people whose families have been beekeepers for several generations as well as very young women and men just starting. It gave me a feel for different weather conditions and the obstacles they face. It was amazing to get to know my fellow students on a different level and create lifelong friendships. One particular woman, I ended up working with on the university hives and have watched her become a successful beekeeper, queen raiser, and pollen producer. Shout out to Honest Farming and Corbicula. I will never forget that experience.


What are some of the challenges you face?

I think the number one challenge I face is more directed towards some people's ideas and attitudes towards wasps and other insects and the pesticides they choose to use. I try very hard to explain the importance of wasps. I am very disappointed in how the media portrayed things like the "murder hornet". I feel very strongly about teaching the roll wasps regarding honeybees. A strong healthy hive can protect itself against wasps and in the garden wasp's help take care of pests that eat our flowers, fruits, and vegetables. As well this runs into the conversation of pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides used in our landscapes. I would love to see more education on these subjects #nochemicalsinmygarden.


Do you have any tips for new beekeepers?

My tip to new beekeepers would be, don't give up and education education education!! I think sometimes new beekeepers think keeping bees is easy. I have lost many hives due to my own mistakes or misunderstandings and have tried to learn and improve my strategies. For example, I have been in the horticulture industry for over 25 years which sounds like a long time but in reality, that means I have only seen 25 springs, 25 summers, 25 falls, etc. Give yourself time to learn and be patient, it can be overwhelming. There is a lot of misinformation out there. It is always a good idea to take classes or have a trusted mentor, even if that means you need to spend a little bit of money, it's worth it in the long run.


What is one of your craziest beekeeping stories?

This question was a hard one for me. I could talk about the time a pallet of bees basically fell on me or all the times our loaded flatbed truck (loaded with bees) got stuck in the mud in the middle of the night but I won't. Instead, I think my true craziest moment was when I realized I get to be involved with amazing, like-minded people making a difference. Strong women and men who are fighting for better beekeeping, farming, and home garden practices. I have been lucky to have met and worked with some amazing people and companies.  Everyone from Honeybee Centre Kids who I work side by side with teaching about bees and pollinators to the community garden organizers and people like yourself, The Apiary Artist, and others on social media platforms that are dedicated to making a difference.


Do you practice a unique beekeeping method that might be different than the majority of other beekeepers? If so, what is it? 

I'm not sure if I practice any unique methods of beekeeping but I do think my understanding of the plant forage around them helps me think differently. I am able to understand what plants provide nectar, pollen, and propolis. This helps in choosing sites, knowing what plants provide a nectar flow, plants that provide both pollen and nectar and how nutritious the pollen is, and if there are trees close for propolis production. 


Anything else you want to add about your experiences?

I think if I was to add anything it would be to simply remember to be mindful of what you put down in your garden including fertilizers. We 100% need our pollinators to be healthy and strong. Without them, we are in trouble. Every bee colony counts and every native solitary bee makes a difference. Thank you Plant Bee Foundation for inviting me to answer some questions and for your dedication. Looking forward to an amazing 2021 beekeeping and gardening year!


********************

Written by Abby Radunz and interviewees

2 views0 comments

Comments


ALL THE BUZZ BLOG

bottom of page