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. 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!