The Honor of Being a Mentor – 2019 ABF Quarterly

Originally published in the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF) Quarterly Vol. 77 No. 1 pg. 30-31. 2019

A teacher’s relationship with a student remains for a lifetime.  An English teacher in high school seeing a low-level reading desire in a student gifted him a non-typical book, “Reilly’s Luck” by Louis Lamour on the condition once the book was read it was to be returned.  This student hid the book and took it to his car and there it stayed.  Later that night the novel was rediscovered and the result, the novel was returned the next day to the insightful teacher.  To his surprise another book again by the same author was ready to be handed back.  The next day it was returned to only find yet another ready to encourage the thrill of reading.  Not long after the desire to have more and quicker intervals caused the young man to purchase his own copies to quench the need to experience more of this imaginary western world.  Since that high school day, this young man has loved reading!

This same example of how to teach new beekeepers is similar.  No matter how many stories were required readings, by Chaucer, Shakespeare, and even initially Dante’s voyage to hell couldn’t entice this young man to lift a single page.  Many want learning at little-to-no expense or invested time.  Beekeeping should be fun…it is initially a hobby.  Only once the student gains the love of the craft does the thirst for more independent learning occur.  How does the mentor encourage or stimulate such a love?  It begins with an interest in bees and a desire to know what makes the bug tic.  Classes can be attended but as the English class experience noted earlier, a class setting may not challenge or stimulate the student.

A few thoughts on mentoring

Obviously, mentors need to possess experience, and an ability to teach with patience.  If the mentor raises the bees for the student then the teacher becomes an “enabler” and little is gained for the student.  Lessons require trial and error, mistakes, and life-altering wipe-outs.  Does the teacher encourage another ride or a new vehicle?  Teachers teach best with an outline and goal of what is needed to learn.  An animal can be skinned many ways and so lessons can vary.  Instead of entire books being read, perhaps a page or two or a Google search with a specific question that needs discovery.

Beehives vary as do needs and personal limitations.  A bee frame that can be removed and inspected is required by the USDA.  Most begin with a package of bees with a caged newly mated queen.  This is similar to starting a garden with greenhouse germinated seedlings.  The plant is then relocated at the whim of the gardener.  Once the package of bees is installed and the queen released, the journey of expansion and learning commence.  Once the bees are growing…now the lessons appear.  What, when, how, why, ahh….do I or should I, can I, but then what if…  The story plays on and sadly failure occurs despite all good intentions.

Understand a bee colony is a world in itself.  A queen exists, with attendants, nursery and care-givers known as nurse bees, custodians and engineers, cooks, wax producers, dock workers, disaster clean-up and restoration personal, inventory control with supply trains with food, water and medicinal supplies, some are undertakers, marines, scouts with messages and others as support staff.  Each active colony has drone immigrants from the surrounding area to support their own male fraternity.  The hive is also populated with thousands of support organisms.  These can live symbiotically within the bee and inside the hive.  Bees create a hive envelope on the inside walls of their hive, it is populated with numerous microorganisms. The beekeeper is the guardian to this developing world and can assist but needs to learn what helps and what does not.

Look for a mentor that:

  • Has successfully over-wintered a colony
  • Is someone you like to be around and can talk with
  • Is accessible in some way, in person, on the phone, via messages, email, or telepathic if that works
  • Preferably uses or understands the hive style you chose
  • Does not do everything for you
  • Has colonies you can see and try
  • Good communication skills

What is the goal or objective of the new beekeeper?

Many get into beekeeping because they want honey.  There are those who are looking for a hobby, friends, social support group, pollination gardens, therapy, gardeners, seeking something new, and on and on.  Many want to love bees but blind love can result in tender lumps from the lovely ladies.  All things require experience and learning even if it is just for “fun”.

Understanding that a beehive is first an incubator and later a honey production plant is a key.  If … key available resources (water, pollen, nectar, and propolis ingredients) exist then the colony can grow, growth can be maintained when invasive threats are minimized by the beekeeper, then and only then … surplus honey is possible.

Initially honey appears to be the focus of many to generate income from beekeeping.  There are many revenue avenues to explore.  A walk through a beekeeping convention will show additional income streams.

Some products are directly related to the bees inside the hive:

  • Liquid honey, creamed, comb, blended, enhanced, natural, medical, varietal flavors, location-based varieties, award quality, even low quality has market appeal in bakeries and waffle shops.
  • Granular pollen, pollen paste, beebread, pollen enriched products that are blended.
  • Propolis, tinctures, wood coatings.
  • Royal Jelly, blended with other items.
  • Beeswax, candles, woodworking pastes, lip-balms, butcher-block coating, hand creams.

Items related to hive making:

  • Woodenware for Langstroth, top-bar, Warre, Mini hives, observation, and Flow Hives, etc.
  • Nuc equipment,
  • Landing boards,
  • Candy boards,
  • Entrance reducers,
  • Pollen traps,
  • Propolis screens,
  • Hive stands,
  • Frames in various sizes and styles,
  • Repair pieces,
  • Foundation in various sizes types and products,
  • Screened bottom-boards,
  • Small hive beetle traps,
  • Queen cages,
  • One-way traps,
  • Robber screens,
  • Various feeders,
  • English garden lids, telescoping covers, and inner covers,
  • Hardware to secure boxes together, and on this list goes.

There are many ways to generate income with bees…it is not all honey.  Add clothing, molds, photos, art, research, articles, transportation, pollination, nutrients, educational lessons and projects, organizations, awards, threat maintenance and control, and on and on.  This all begins with bees inside the hive.

Mentoring is an Art

This all starts with a person interested in beekeeping and a skilled mentor.  Years ago, an insightful mentor guided this “newbie” and to this day doesn’t know how important he was.  He inadvertently taught and instilled a desire to question what is done and why.  He clearly loved and cursed this sometimes-hurtful industrious insect – the honey bee. I now too share my love with others mostly because of him.

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