Friday, June 10, 2011

Surprise! You're a beekeeper

Tim clocks in at over a dozen years experience as a beekeeper, so he asked me to be the one to write about what’s surprising and strange to a first-timer to help out anyone who’s in my shoes or considering getting started.

The first thing that surprised me was how easy this is. For highly evolved eusocial organisms composed of tens of thousands of venomous individuals, it’s not too difficult to figure out what a bee colony wants and needs. Sure, I have Tim around to do a lot of the heavy lifting (literally, in the case of getting packing pallets up to the roof to keep the hives off the hot rooftop surface). But it turns out getting started is only as complicated as you want it to be.

That wasn't so hard.

Worried about time and money? Pshaw. You can get yourself set up for about $300 in the first year and not much at all in years after if things go well. And check this: these pets feed themselves. You’ll only need to spend 20 minutes every two weeks inspecting your hives once they get going.

Equipment catalogs like Brushy Mountain and BetterBee make it simple to order as much or as little gear as suits you. Think you’ll need Velcro bands to keep your pant legs tight around the ankles? They’ll hook you up for just $3.95! Or if you prefer the minimalist or DIY approach, check out the so-called Backwards Beekeepers of LA or Anarchy Apiaries in the Northeast.

Local beekeeping associations (find yours here) offer classes and lectures, and pair up newbies with mentors. Visit their websites and you might even find a message board with people sympathetic to the cause offering up their backyards or rooftops—no small wonder, if your primary hurdle to getting started is space. As for me, I’m forever indebted to Jim and Liane of the NYC Beekeeping Group for the courses they’ve provided to me and literally thousands of my fellow Gothamists, free of charge.

Don’t forget to check out the lit. Tim’s got a great list of print and online resources to get you up to speed, although if you only get one thing, make it The Beekeeper’s Handbook. That is, until next year when the book by our friend Meg Paska (aka the Brooklyn Homesteader)—the book first ever to specifically address urban beekeeping—will make its debut.

From The Beekeeper's Handbook. Developmental stage charts, and diagnostic dissection diagrams? Yeah, you want it.

Most of all remember that beekeepers, like the little bugs they care for, are social beings. If you haven’t connected to people in your area who can help you out, you’re not trying.

Next in the series will be things that surprised me about hive inspections themselves. In the meantime, what concerns do you have about getting started? Or if you too are new to the game, what have you experienced that you weren’t expecting?

P.S. Here's a preview of the other rooftop project we've got cooking. They're not gonna be on my windowsill much longer...

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