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Hive Mentality: Five Beekeeping Tips from Kara Brook

A beekeeping queen shares lessons learned in her first three years at work.

Photo Credit: Kirsten Elstner

Bee realistic. The romantic notion of bees buzzing through a flower garden with free-flowing honey and next to no hive care is a fantasy. Beekeeping is hard work. It requires planning, study, community support, and quite a bit of investment -- not to mention the hot, sticky, heavy, and sometimes frustrating nature of the work. Before starting your own practice, find a beekeeper to shadow for about a year. No matter how much you read, only hands-on experience will give you a real feel for what's involved.


Hide your hive. Bees thrive in protected areas. The less exposure they have to the elements, the better. Full or part shade is also ideal. In my apiary, the bees shielded from wind and hot southern sun are doing the best.

Photo Credit: Kirsten Elstner

Beware the swarm. When bees outgrow their living quarters, they fly the coop. I had a very prolific and productive group of girls this year -- which turned into an earlier-than-expected reduction in work force. If you aren’t checking in every 10 days after installing your bees, you run the same risk. I believe I would have produced quite a bit more honey this season if I had been watching more closely.

Photo Credit: Kirsten Elstner

Let it bee. I can be a real worrier, and in previous years, I found myself phoning seasoned beekeepers regularly with questions. Did they have enough food? Were they doing what they were supposed to do? This year, I stopped. I decided that I would do my best and not worry. I found peace of mind in knowing that I had three years of planting acres and acres of wild flowers behind me. Worry doesn’t help progress. Ever.


Think outside the hive. What works for other beekeepers won’t always work for you. Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet -- and realize that if you ask five beekeepers the same question, you may walk away with six answers. There's no remedy beyond knowing that's there's no "right" or "wrong" way. Take it all in, and try one or two things that make the most sense. Experience will reveal what works best for you. A few things that have helped me: Start with used, healthy hives with drawn comb; practice pesticide-free farming; purchase packaged bees from a reputable grower and not a factory; and surround yourself with high-pollen flowering plants and trees.

Photography by: Helen Norman
Photo Credit: Kirsten Elstner

The flowering plants and trees on our farm include pear, apple, lavender, honeysuckle, sage, clover, sunflower, and lots of wild flowers and perennials. We call our artisanal honey "Spring." It is complex and delicious. 


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