The Case for a Mentor

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The Case for a Mentor

As many of you know, I work a ton of markets and events when I am peddling my wares.  A number of the venues I repeat - over and over.  Throughout the course of these travels, I end up having the same conversations.  That isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Since I pay attention, what I have learned from a number of these people is how much they would like to get into bee keeping and start their own hive.

First things first - whatever you do, DO NOT go out and purchase a bunch of materials, equipment, mite treatment, used hives, etc. Invest in your education - above all other things.  It is common to the human condition that we tend to jump in with both feet when we as people discover an occupation, hobby or opportunity that peaks our interest.  You know what else is part of the human condition? - Being good at that thing that holds our interest.  Striving for greatness is the foundation of developing a talent in anything.

Where To Look

Thank God for Google.  Mentors can be found in any state.  Some larger apiaries hold their own programs.  One of the BEST places to look is your state's beekeeping association.  With minimal effort, you can find a link on the association's site that will lead you to a monthly meeting or get together.  Then it is a simple matter of showing up, asking questions, and meeting people.  For those of you that are interested in raising your own honey so you can avoid people, I have some rough news for you.  Here is where you will need to be social. Forming that connection is the essential part.  Finding a mentor is just another word for 'making friends'.  This is not like going to school.  Picking a mentor requires you to find someone that you can not only learn from but also finding a person that you get along with.  Remember, you will end up spending a significant amount of time with this person. Why - because there is a lot to learn.  You will constantly come across new challenges and you are going to want a strong interpersonal dynamic with a mentor who will shepard you through the learning curves.

Where else?  Bee Culture Magazine is a treasure trove of resources.  Look at it like the Encyclopedia Britannica for honey and bee keeping resources.  Just scroll to the 'Resources' tab, then 'Find Help'. 

You can also try a bee keeping course.  I recommend Beekeeping 101 - this is a great macro-view approach for the newbie who is worried about not just getting stung but also has aspirations to sell the fruits (or rather the honey) of their labor.  This product exists as an e-book and is available for purchase to download.  If you were considering a class at your local college or university, this is a less expensive alternative to help you get your feet wet (or sticky, if you prefer).

Questions to Ask 

No doubt you have your own questions for this ethereal bee whisperer but if you will allow me, here are somethings to ponder.

* What direction do I want the hives to point?

*How much shading is appropriate?

* Assess what flowers and plants are prevalent at your hive site.  Are these adequate for pollen production relative to the number of hives you have or should you consider planting additional flowers.

*What type of bee should you consider - be sure to take into account what section of the country you live in and the seasonal temperature.  For example, many amateur bee keepers in Michigan use Italian bees.  However, Italians are not ideally suited for Michigan.  A common problem these keepers face is difficulty maintaining hives through our brutal winters.  

 * What miticides to consider and when and how to apply.

* How and when to split a hive?

*Ins and outs of inspecting when looking for wax moths, mites, foul brood, or hive beatles.

And this is just a tiny bit to scratch the surface.  This by no means is meant to intimidate you.  Rather, my hope is that this will prompt you to see the nuances involved in raising bees.  Think of it like a combination lock where the combination changes based on where you live and how you construct your hive or apiary.  This is why I can not tell you specifically what equipment to start with.  Does it make sense for you to buy an extractor if the colonies you are attempting to raise do not survive the season?  Perhaps it would make more sense in the first season to have a larger bee keeper extract it for you so you can get an idea of volume - or you could extract manually and make & sell cut comb honey. 

The key here is that there are lots and lots of options.  This is not a one size fits all industry.  What is the definition of success?  It varies for everyone.  Some want to grow an apiary to 5,000 hives and service orchards for pollination services and others just want to produce enough honey for their family.  Each scenario demands a different set of inputs.

What I do recommend is you define what your end goals are first, before moving forward with a bee keeping mentor.  This will help shape who you seek out as a mentor/teaching partner.  Find someone who has a similar sized operation.  This will keep both of you speaking the same language.

In closing, I am going to bring up a key point that I return to over and over when I talk business.  Consistency and diligence will define your experience with raising a hive(s).   Remember, you are growing a colony of living organisms.  Just like parenting, it will require a tremendous amount of patience and attention, at least if you want to do it right. The real pay off will come AFTER you make mistakes - rather a series of consecutive mistakes.  At some point, you will lose your first few colonies.  Then, you will employ the methods you learn from your teacher. Your colony will sustain and thrive.  It is at that point that you will realize the value of learning from someone. Feel free to pat yourself on the back for not short-cutting the learning process.