Beekeeping, especially urban beekeeping, is picking up steam and buzz! When I first attended my “Beekeeping Basics” class put on by the local beekeepers club twenty 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. Sticking with beekeeping for over twenty years has seen lots of changes in the apiary. 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 ideas, energy, and ways of doing things are transforming the apiary yard to 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 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 should 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 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. But only until Colony Collapse Disorder in 2007 became publicized, did people sit up and take notice that bees were in trouble or realize that they were vital. A result of that realization is a huge welcome influx of brand new concerned beekeepers, many of them under thirty, to start their own hives, worried about the environmental impact of the decline.
A steep learning curve will hit any newbee, and even though I have kept bees for twenty 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 upon learning about the time and money involved drop out. And be prepared to get stung and have swarms on your property!
But many are sticking with it and staying in it for the long-term. Check out my post on How to Jump Into the World of Beekeeping.
BroodMinder-Technology In Beekeeping
And technology has entered beekeeping. I am 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 wrapped 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 and even email it to myself. Yes, there is an app for everything!
If the temperature and humidity plummets during the winter, I will know that the beehive needs my help with supplemental feeding. See BroodMinder for more information. They are also developing a monitor that will weigh your hive. I would love this feature to inform me as to how much honey is being stored during the summer so you know the best time to harvest!