HOW TO SURVIVE BEEKEEPING GROUPS

HOW TO SURVIVE BEEKEEPING GROUPS

The old joke goes, “Ask three beekeepers a question and you’ll get five different answers”. If you’ve ever been to beekeeping club meeting, you’ve probably witnessed this first hand. Beekeepers, especially when you put them all in a room together, tend to be opinionated at best and downright crotchety at worst. So, what’s the best way to handle situations like this and how can you turn them into a positive learning experience?

  1. 1. Talk the Talk

Beekeepers have a specialized vocabulary when it comes to talking bees. As a beginning beekeeper, you’ll likely encounter a whole host of new terms you haven’t heard before, yet most new beekeepers don’t attempt to use them. Instead, they make up their own words or attempt feeble, confusing descriptions instead. I often hear the word slats used to describe the frames of a Langstroth hive… or should I say “Langstrom”, a common butchering of the famed hive inventor’s name. These mistakes might seem trivial, but they are the kind of thing experienced beekeepers will roll their eyes about and it is a missed opportunity to make a good impression on your fellow beekeepers. If you make the effort to learn the lingo  before attending the meeting, not only will you understand the experienced beekeepers in the room better, they will understand you better! Plus, using the correct terminology shows that you are serious about learning how to keep bees and that you have already invested some time into researching it, which makes you more appealing to any potential  mentors you may encounter. If you want to study up on this topic, check out Michael Bush’s glossary. 

2. Vet Your Sources

One of the wonderful and terrible things about getting started with bees is that everyone wants to give you advice, however, not all beekeepers know what they are talking about. If you intend to follow some advice given to you by another beekeeper, you should ask them a few questions about their experience. Often people will ask, “How long have you been keeping bees?” as a measure of that beekeeper’s credibility, but I think an important follow up question is, “How many hives do you have?” Someone who has been keeping bees for 5 years can be a valuable resource, but if they’ve only kept one or two hives during that period its possible that someone who has been keeping ten hives for 3 years would have a greater breadth of knowledge. You might also consider what style hive they use or how their climate might be different from yours. Get a little background from the person offering up suggestions before you decide if you want to implement their ideas.

3. Strengthen Your Instincts

Beginners aren’t very confident in their own instincts. If you feel that way, when an experienced beekeeper tells you your ideas are wrong, its hard not to believe them. After all, they have been working with bees for much longer than you.  Sometimes though, there’s a little voice or a feeling in your gut that says,”they’re wrong”. If you get that sensation, don’t ignore it! It’s important to develop your beekeeping intuition. So, when an experienced beekeeper gets a little heavy handed with their advice, ask them to explain the logic behind it so you can get a better understanding. If they pooh pooh your idea, don’t be afraid to push back and get the details on exactly why they don’t think it will work. Then, when it comes down to deciding whether or not to take their advice, weigh each choice against what you think the bees would do and let that be your deciding factor. The more you know about bees, their biology and their behavior, the more confident you can be in your choices.

4. Oppressive Attitudes

Sometimes things can get heated at bee meetings and other beekeepers will try to disparage or ridicule you. Maybe this is because you are a new beekeeper, maybe its because you are a hobbyist instead of a commercial beekeeper, maybe its because you are a treatment free beekeeper or maybe its because you bought a Flow Hive. Maybe its because you are young or maybe its because you are a woman. I know I felt belittled by my local bee club when I started as a young woman interested in natural beekeeping practices. I was told I wouldn’t be able to keep bees successfully in Top Bar Hives! These oppressive attitudes come in many forms. They might be subtle or they could be straight up harassment. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable at a meeting because of these types of behaviors, stay strong. Don’t let anyone else dictate your beekeeping journey.

If you want to maintain a relationship with the group, try to agree to disagree and focus on what you do have in common. After all, you probably all share a love of bees. Or you could emphasize and embrace your differences by doing a presentation on whatever it is that makes you different from the other members in your group. Maybe that’s a show and tell with your Flow Hive; I have found that many don’t really understand how they work and they might enjoy learning something about it. Perhaps you can share the challenges of the first year in beekeeping; sometimes old timers forget what its like.

If this doesn’t help, leave the group and start your own or try to find a like minded community online. I left my beekeeping group and sought out information online or in books. Then, a few years later, I ended up providing what I did not have access to as a new beekeeper, natural beekeeping classes! After a couple years of teaching, more and more of my students joined the local beekeeping club. This brought in not only fresh perspectives and experiences, but also a more accepting atmosphere. Today I have rejoined my club as a board member and am proud of how open-minded its become. Do you get along with your local bee club? Share your experiences in the comments!

10 Comments

Susan Rudnicki

Very helpful post—something everybody encounters, but can’t ever remember any club or teacher directly addressing. Recommending newbees know their proper lingo (please do not call every size of hive body a “super”) is important for asking knowledgable questions when wanting to learn! A general way of dealing with “heavy advice” givers, is the questioning mode—explaining the biological principles behind “rules” often throws them off. So, #3 is very useful guidance.

Reply
Silvana Nieto

You have nailed it in the head Hillary!! Thanks for the advice and the giggles!! As a woman beekeeper, and a newish one at that, I can empathise with every line of your article, but I am lucky to belong to an awesome beekeepers group, run by an awesome chick!! Keep up the excellent work, there is a few of us looking up to you!!

Reply
Adam Hickman

Spot on comments for getting started in bee club. It’s really intimidating to aspiring beekeepers, and even though some experienced beekeepers have good intentions, they alienate guests or new beekeepers. It’s a struggle for me being on the board, but seeing new people leaving completely discouraged and confused because of all the jargon. Nice work on the blog Hilary. -@foxhoundbeeco

Reply
Marina

Thank you for this! Giving me all the smiles over here because you’re saying stuff people need to hear! As a young female beekeeper in Hawaii I’m surrounded by grouchy old men stuck in their ways… Let’s just all get along friends! #savethebees follow along! @tolentinofarms

Reply
Aislin Gibson

Thank you for writing this, Hilary! Totally guilty of calling top bar hive frames “slats” :P. I have yet to return to my beekeeping club (for all the awkward reasons you mentioned above), so I love your pragmatic strategies and straightforward talk (always!). Until I’m ready to meet another local group, I’ve been lucky enough to meet beekeepers online and sticking with my mentor IRL, but I think it’s time to meet more local beekeepers and glad to have this article as a guide.

Reply
Mike Martino

I wish you people could come to Mid York beekeepers. As a group we put a beeginners course on every year, it has swelled our ranks from 6-20 beekeepers / meeting to 75 on average. Many are treatment free, most members are without attitude. We just like to meet. A new group in CNY is the Syracuse beekeepers, another group of great people. I just hope most people that have been to our meetings feel like I do. Anyone in New York State or wherever is welcome!

Reply
Sharon

Great observations! One club I heard about is considering maximum term lengths for positions on the board to ensure some greater degree of diversity and to encourage people to move forward. what do you think?

Reply
Sam

Awesome advice and so TRUE! I’m a 30yo guy in Australia and I have witnessed basically everything you just mentioned! Glad to hear there’s younger generations and woman getting more involved with bees on an international level. Everyone should feel welcomed and confident enough to ask those questions that are sitting in the back of their minds no matter how embarrassing it may feel. In most situations I believe most beginners in the meetings are all thinking similar thoughts and could benefit. Love your work Hilary! 🐝🤘🏼

Reply
Li

#4 was a deal breaker for me. The local club does not allow for a diversity of opinion and the self appointed president for life is not interested in changing. Thank goodness for books, youtube and blogs like yours! That’s cool that you made it back to your local club and that it changed its ways.

Reply

Buzzing to say something?