What is a "Bee Class" you ask? It is a class that I'm taking where you learn how to keep bees. Last night was the first class out of six at a local agricultural high school only 20 minutes from here. I feel fortunate that there is a class and an association so close by. I don't think I would have the nerve to start without the guidance of folks who know what they're doing.
The collection of beekeepers that run the bee school are a laid back group of people. No need to pre-register for the annual Bee Class, just show up. I wondered to myself if they've ever had only one person show after all of their efforts to prepare. I don't think that has ever been the case -- at least in the recent past. The local association here has been in existence for about 50 years. At 6:30, a half hour early - as instructed, about 25 New Englanders - young and old - poured into the classroom after writing our checks for $45 and sat down in a semi-circle of high school desks. Like good New Englanders that we are, no one said one word to each other before the class started. I read my new book "Beekeeping Basics" that accompanies the class. Finally one of the six beekeeping teachers saved us and started gabbing about bees.
When class officially started we did the obligatory introductions going around the room, stating your name and why you have an interest in keeping bees. I was surprised by how many people in the room are simply fascinated with bees and want to keep them because they are amazing insects (which, the more you study them, the more amazing you realize they are). One man, probably in his 60's, doesn't like pets, or insects, or honey for that matter -- but he is fascinated by bees and would like to keep them. Not interested in harvesting the honey. Hmmm. To each his own. There were several people like myself who want to keep bees for better pollination of their gardens and / or orchards, in addition to getting some honey out of the deal.
All of the teachers were very passionate - to the point of adoring - about their bees. A big part of their passion comes from their concern for the honey bee population. They are hopeful that we will all decide to keep bees for the sake of the future of the honey bee. You have probably heard about the mite brought over from Asia that's been plaguing the honey bee since the 80's. And more recently, their hives have been suffering from colony collapse disorder. Now there are concerns by the government that this has been caused by the pesticide they approved to kill the mites with. In addition, (I believe just this year) the government is requiring bee keepers to replace at least 20% of their combs annually, because apparently pesticides applied to farms end up leeching into the combs (wax) and they are concerned that eventually this hurts the bees who live in, lay eggs in and raise their young in the combs. Gee, surprise, surprise. Before the 1980's bee keeping required very little effort. Now, because their strength has been depleted, they require more effort and education.
A few quick points that were mentioned last night:
- The teachers were very enthusiastic about the positive effects keeping bees has on your garden / orchard. They said that the bees make an enormous difference. As I mentioned last fall, on a large sprawling pumpkin plant with numerous blossoms, I only got three pumpkins. I actually tried my hand at hand-pollinating my summer squash plants because the blossoms kept falling off -- fruitless. This worked, but it was labor intensive!
- Many fruits and vegetables need to be pollinated up to 5 times to produce good "fruit".
- The honey bee is a very docile bee.
- The teachers were quick to point out that yellow jackets give the honey bee a bad name.