Beekeeping, especially urban beekeeping, is picking up steam and buzz. When I first attended a beekeeping basics class put on by the local beekeepers club 20 years ago, older men in coveralls dominated and the joke was that the average age of a beekeeper was “from 57 to dead.” As a younger woman in the class, I was definitely in the minority. Over the past 20 years, a new generation of beekeepers has arrived which has injected a revolution in how beekeeping is practiced. Hipsters, young mothers, and middle-aged couples have taken up the practice in greater numbers than ever before.
The practice of “we have always done it like this,” is slowly but surely disappearing. Beekeepers with new ways of doing things are transforming the apiary yard into something that beekeepers from 50 years ago wouldn’t recognize. When problems started to arise 10-15 years ago with the advent of mites, hive beetles, and colony collapse, beekeepers wasted time hoping to return to 1940’s beekeeping. The old guard still wishes for that. But with the new crop of beekeepers, they don’t know the difference and attack the problems with renewed vigor and novel solutions.
An apiary’s female-dominated society could be especially attractive to women. Historically, people assumed that the bee queen was actually a king. Even Shakespeare referred to the head of the hive as a king. We now know differently that females in a beehive basically do all the heavy-lifting with the males kept around for only one thing — inseminating a queen bee.
Women are increasingly becoming beekeepers in the traditionally male-dominated field. But this isn’t always easy for young women because of the physical nature of beekeeping. Try bench pressing 65 to 75 pounds or more of dead weight, which a full hive body of honey can weigh. Also, I find women tend to be more creative and decorate their hives more. Check out the blog Beekeeping Like a Girl for great ideas on decorating your beehive to stand out from the crowd, and also my post on Beehive Art on embellishing your own hive.
From a creature with a brain the size of a sesame seed, a working hive is incredibly diverse and organized and gets the job done efficiently. Pollinating many of our agricultural crops, honeybees are hugely important to our economy. It wasn’t until Colony Collapse Disorder was heavily publicized in 2007 that people took notice that bees were in trouble. A result of that realization is a huge influx of new beekeepers who are ready to start their own hives.
A steep learning curve will hit any newbee, and even though I have kept bees for 20 years, I still feel new to the field. Disease, parasitic mites, low winter survival rates, and the high startup cost is still an issue, but I find that new beekeepers are enthusiastic and eager to learn. Inevitably, some people drop out upon discovering the time and money involved. And be prepared to get stung and have swarms on your property!
But many beekeepers are sticking with it for the long-term. Check out my post on How to Jump Into the World of Beekeeping.
Technology in beekeeping
Recently, I’ve begun using BroodMinder ,which uses the latest in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology and integrated circuit temperature- and humidity chips, to monitor my hive. By placing the small bee resistant monitor with a battery on top of the frames, any heat and humidity created by the bees is recorded as it rises to the top of the hive. Relaying the information to an app on my phone, I can monitor how the hive is doing.