Monday, January 3, 2011


Many beekeepers, especially old school ones, have a decided DIY streak. You can't be a beekeeper if you don't enjoy working with your hands and for many of us, that enjoyment spreads out from the apiary and into our homes and apartments.

There is a growing trend in beekeeping toward the sterile standardization of beekeeping practice and equipment. Some experts suggest that beekeepers (new ones in particular) go so far as to purchase pre-built and pre-painted hives. They argue that so few people have the time, skills, tools, or space to assemble their own equipment and that it is often more effective and
enjoyable to have the work done for you.

That's bullshit.

One of the greatest pleasures in beekeeping, at least in my opinion, is working through a colony and realizing that you built it. Obviously you didn't make the bees or the comb they built, but the framework was your doing, your labor, your love, and I think that counts for something. The enjoyment just doesn't flow as deep when you don't take the time and effort to get your hands dirty knocking together some woodenware on your living room floor. You didn't make these things, you just pulled out your credit card and had someone else do it for you.

That's sad.

In a time when it is so easy to disconnect from the life going on around you, there are more and more people struggling to rebuild that bond. People like Martina at Farmtina who work hard to grow their own food and try new things. They may not always go the way they expect, but they gain an invaluable appreciation for just how much time, effort, and love can go into something as simple as eating a fresh tomato in the summer or putting local honey in your morning tea.
Beekeepers should strive to have a deeper connection with their bees, not to weaken it by giving one more honest experience away to the faceless voices at the beekeeping catalog.

My friend Melanie, who proofread this article for me, told me that I sound a little (read: really) judgy. She's a knitter and she loves it, but she has no interest in spinning her own yarn. Does that make her a bad knitter? No. Of course not. Nor does not having a full on woodworking shop in your shoebox of a NYC apartment make you a bad beekeeper. I certainly am not recommending that you go out and buy a bunch of power tools and start practicing box joints. I just think that you should try your hand at making something before you get someone to make it for you. Maybe it'll be a disaster! Maybe it just won't be for you. And there's nothing wrong with that.

The experts who push toward pre-built hives cite the fact that beekeeping supply catalogs are terrible at providing instructions. It's true, and I know beekeepers who have killed off entire colonies by misassembling equipment sent without any sort of instructions. Some kits are worse than others. Some are like IKEA from hell. Mistakes have been made and will continue to be made. I've built my fair share of crooked frames, but I've gotten better with practice and so will you.

I'm not saying it's easy.

I'm saying it's better.

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