By Sarah Meyer, Beekeeper and Owner of Worker’s Ransom Honey
Ever been invited to a beehive? If you were invited, would you accept the offer? I absolutely love sharing the experience of beekeeping with others. Since setting up my first hive in 2014, I’ve invited students, friends, colleagues, and fellow beekeepers to visit my hives with me. Most often they are enthusiastically willing, but when I offer to pick them up, drive them to my bee yard, and loan them my extra bee suit, the expression on their face sometimes shifts from a huge, ‘“all-in”’ grin to a suspicious ‘“will I get stung?”’ panicked smirk.
Once suited up, I hand my “apprentice” my smoker to pump and puff. Much like the bees, they are distracted by the billowing smoke. The active, somewhat impossible, task of keeping the smoker going gives them something to achieve while we approach the rear of the beehive. I pop open the inner cover, all awhile, talking them through best practices of a hive inspection and offering explanations for what they might experience once the honeybee colony is revealed.
As I pry a frame loose and snap the propolis seal, I call attention to each detail of the built comb, capped honey, and the many duties a honeybee has over their lifetime. I start to notice my visitor’s shoulders release. Their jaw softens a bit and their eyebrows raise slightly in awe as thousands of honeybees busily wander between and across the honey-filled frames. There are multiple reasons why a hive may not behave so nonchalant toward visitors, but a healthy hive with a strong queen bee could often care less about the curious humans looming over them.
In amazement, my apprentice proudly holds up a full, 5 lb. frame of honey as the honeybees maintain focus on their tasks. Visiting the hive is exhilarating for the “new-bee” and their questions about the colony, the colors of honey, and seasonal changes within the hive almost form into an interrogation of the beekeeper. What immediately silences them is a lift of their protective veil and a lick of local honey dripping from my hive tool.
Having personally pursued beekeeping with only a quick, inspiring read of The Beekeepers Lament and absolutely no hands-on experience or exposure to honeybees, I hope that accepting an invitation to a beehive inspires curiosity and deeper intrigue, and may even propel someone into an exploration of the world of honeybees, pollination, honey, beekeeping, and maybe even farming or entrepreneurship.
After setting my intention to become a beekeeper, I took a beginner beekeeping class to wrap my head, and my budget, around what exactly I was getting into—basically adopting livestock. I recommend a comparable class to any aspiring beekeeper before they commit to overseeing their first colony.
I found an amazing mentor and took that same class every winter for my first 4 years, knowing that there is always something to learn about keeping honeybees, but also that our understanding of the hive is constantly shifting and often based on trial and error, research, and experiential learning.
I’ve realized that these are all of the same reasons why I love beekeeping so much! I am constantly learning and experimenting in order to try to figure things out. The most gratifying part of being a beekeeper for me isn’t actually the size of my honey haul or the number of bottles sold, but the fact that I can revel in what is still to learn and experience, and that I can keep the invitation open to anyone wanting to visit the hive with me.
Sarah A. Meyer is the beekeeper and owner of Worker’s Ransom Honey based in Geneva, New York. She set up her first hive in 2014 and now sells local honey from bees pollinating the Finger Lakes region. You can learn more about Worker’s Ransom Honey by reading about Sarah’s beekeeping adventures shared in her monthly From the Hive column for Edible Finger Lakes and following Worker’s Ransom on social media @workersransom on Facebook and @workersransomhoney on Instagram. To contact Sarah, email firstname.lastname@example.org.