The pros and cons of beekeeping

So, you want to keep bees? – Season 7


Why to keep bees?

I have been planning to write this post for a while. I am often asked about how difficult it is to get into beekeeping, and I find that I often tailor my answer to the individual. Why not just  give a quick and enthusiastic “you can do it”? I hope that after reading this post, you can understand 🙂

1. The bees are not always welcomed

As a new movement of homesteading is gaining speed, and our society is relearning the basics of human interaction with the natural world, people are eager to learn the new skills of animal husbandry. When we visited Seattle, four years ago, we were surprised to find chickens in so many backyards! There were no roosters, but all the same, the tiny backyards were magically transformed into urban farms :-)… When we bought our mini farm 15 years ago, our first choice of animals was chickens. Well, the bees are not like chickens. They are not fussy cuddly creatures, you can hold in your hands everyday. They are not neighbor-friendly backyard animals either. While you may be excited about adding them to your farm/rooftop/suburban backyard, your enthusiasm may not be shared by your family or neighbors. That is something to consider before the cost and time commitment.

2. Bees require greater commitment in education

Over the years, we learned a lot about sheltering, feeding and general care of chickens, and the experience has been mostly positive (we have lost many birds to predation over the years, but that is the price we had to pay for letting them free range). Chickens are very forgiving. Unless bought from an unreliable source or kept in unsanitary and confined environment on a poor diet, you have a pretty good chance rearing the chicks to adulthood. There is no such guarantee with the bees. From the moment you get your package or split, things get complicated. That is why so many new beekeepers give up. So, I think that there is nothing wrong with spending a couple of years learning about bees and visiting other beekeepers’ apiaries, before spending your money on the equipment and bees, which you are not even sure you like to handle…

3. You don’t always get honey

Just like planting a crop, there is no guarantee that there will be honey harvest in the fall. For people who have never done farming, even hobby farming, or planted a “victory” garden, I would recommend starting a little garden first. I am not talking about feeding the whole family kind of garden. A couple of boxes with greens on the sunny balcony will do, but they need to produce some crop, so you can understand the seasons and learn to follow maintenance schedule. For urban beekeepers, I suggest volunteering their time to another urban beekeeper for a year to observe and learn and, finally, understand that each year is different and, while there may not be enough honey every year, it should not be a reason to give up beekeeping.

4. The conditions are not the most comfortable

Working outside, on a sunny location, will make you sweat. You will be often thirsty and will need to take care of yourself. You hair will smell like smoke. You manicured nails may not survive. You will get stung, sooner or later. You will find that cleaning equipment takes a long time. You may get chased by the bees. You will have to miss some fun activities with the friends, if the weekend is your only free time. You will need to feed the bees in winter, when you may not even want to go out. The list goes on. If you are an outdoors kind of person, this means nothing to you.

Last week I broke my ankle (both tibia and fibula bones were completely broken). A couple of years ago, I broke my right arm. I am now trying to figure out how I am going to “do it”. The bees cannot wait for six weeks for my bones to heal, which brings me to the next point…

5. Beekeeping requires disciple and time commitment

With the bees, you have to establish a maintenance schedule. If your spouse is out of town  during that one nice week in the early spring, when you can visit the bees, but you have small children, you have to hire a baby sitter. How much money your honey is going to cost you in labor and babysitting fees is something to consider. I don’t keep bees for economical reasons. There are only that many nice days in each season, when you can open your hive. Your bees will starve in the winter, swarm in the spring, get sick in the summer and succumb to mite infestation by fall, unless you are constantly “working with them”. Chickens in the backyard sound like a much better deal, if you are a busy person.

So, why keep bees?

I keep bees because I simply find them fascinating. They are my best therapy. They bring me closer to my Maker. I think of them as my retreat. I learn from them about the circle of life. I still work on the best organic and natural beekeeping practices. I still enjoy getting a big honey harvest. I love other beekeeping products. This year, I am finally getting my children involved (thanks to that broken ankle) as well. I always feel excited and happy, when I visit my apiary. I don’t mind sweating or equipment maintenance…

If you feel that you have a passion for bees, and are willing to learn and spend time and money on your beekeeping hobby, you will have the best time. Chances are you will have very strong feelings about both your successes and your failures. If you are only thinking of honey and buzzwords to put in your LinkedIn profile, you may want to consider a different hobby. Unlike chickens, the bees are not domesticated farm animals, and they will teach you that pretty quickly.



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