Why a beekeeping mentor is a MUST HAVE

You’re in your backyardrelatively new to beekeeping, you look to the sky and concentrate on (well first you hear) a black, buzzing cloud. It takes a moment for your eyes to focus and assimilate what you are looking at; you are witnessing your first swarm.  You have read about swarms, but all of a sudden you’re unsure. Is there something to be done? If only you could just call someone more experiencedask a few questions. Well that’s exactly what we did seven years ago. I will never forget that day for two reasons. Watching my first swarm and then being able to capture it—was a thrill! Secondly, it was the beginning of a mentoring relationship that has lasted for years. 

If you are new to beekeeping, I would like to offer my two cents, which may only be worth a penny to you, but to someone else it might just be priceless down the road.

"Book knowledge is great, but having a bee mentor is invaluable."

Let me say it another way (and please take this with a grain of salt).

"A prideful person doesn’t ask for beekeeping help, but the humble beekeeper is willing to surround himself or herself with experienced beekeepers."

I like to call these experienced beekeepers by a more affectionate term, “old-timers”. They don’t have to be old (although in some cases the older they are, the more stories I get to hear!), they’re just beekeepers that have been at it so long that they are like a properly seasoned, well-used cast iron skillet. They have loads of wisdom to share and they don't let it stick to themselves. 

Over the past seven years we’ve become knowledgeable beekeepers (but there is always more to learn). About six years ago, one of our mentors said to me, “You’re no longer a newbie, your first year of beekeeping has taught you much, you now know more than the newbies showing up for these workshops.” In other words, he was encouraging me share my experiences. Thus the circle continued and my husband and I have been giving back ever since. 

Valarie & Scott represent their beekeeping assoc.,
offering honey tasting from local and store bought honey

Our first (beloved) mentor, Bill Mares!
As the years have progressed, pay it forward has naturally become Scott’s style to fellow Vermont beekeepers as he answers questions that come in by telephone, email and teaching venues. He has lead beekeeping workshops, taught beekeeping 101 extension classes, and been interviewed several times by the local news channel to provide beekeeping basics. This give back approach has been modeled well by esteemed old-timers such as Bill Mares, Michael Palmer and Bill Mraz. They have given our beekeeping association countless hours of teaching, training and knowledge.

For Scott and I, fun mentoring opportunities have looked like these:

Mentee, Gisela

Early in 2012, Scott met a woman while teaching a beekeeping course whom insisted that he would be her tutor(she was feisty, but a good learner). He provided hands-on experience within our operation, until she was ready to purchase her own hives and give it try. Last I heard, this mentee had been fully inducted into the world of beekeeping—she received her first black bear attack this spring. 

Valarie discussing the inside of the hive with a child

For me, my face lights up with smiles when I’m educating the children that visit our observation hive. They have hundreds of questions (literally), and if they stick around long enough, they start answering questions that come from adults that walk up to our booth. Our job is done; I just love this! I also have opportunities to talk about how I render wax, make pure beeswax candles and make infused honey etc. I further like to talk about products from the hive and show what can be created with them, such as the consumption of bee pollen, propolis and foods cooked with honey.

Mentee, Gary (and son)
from Lake Champlain Chocolates reaping his first harvest

Last year Scott began mentoring some aspiring beekeepers that work at Lake Champlain Chocolates. This is a Vermont company that knows what local is all about. These chocolatiers use local honey, maple syrup, cream etc. in their craft. It has been a pleasure for my husband to work alongside of them; coaching, encouraging and then helping them (with the excitement of their first harvest) extract frames of honey. Maybe someday they’ll be extracting enough honey to use in their mouthwatering chocolates.

You may ask, “Where can I find a beekeeper mentor?”

Many states have a beekeepers associations or local beekeeping club. If you haven’t joined one, I highly recommend it. Heck we’ve driven to other states and paid a visitors fee to hear guest speakers that we think will help us with our beekeeping skills. Most associations have a list for their members containing beekeepers willing to be mentors. Some folks use online forums such as Beesource to ask their questions. This is great; however, I still recommend getting to know someone local in case something is going on in your hive that you can’t read properly, but an experienced beekeeper could come on site and help you out, and potentially help to save your colony(s).
One of our endeared "old-timers" Bill Mraz

Well that about wraps up my two cents on why you should seek out a mentor. Oh wait, if you are reading this and you have years of experience and have never become a mentor, what the buzz are you waiting for? Do I need to come through this screen and sting you? No, seriously—I know that time is limited, so say no to ten but if you can, try saying yes to one. From firsthand experience, passing on wisdom and giving support does have a payoff. It gives back satisfaction in knowing you have personally helped a fellow beekeeper, thus growing the community and increasing the education on how to keep healthy sustainable honey bees.  

Happy beekeeping!

We want to hear from you (and I’m sure others would too). Tell us the most helpful advice that you have received from your beekeeping mentor. Please post comments below.


Kiana Nafziger said...

We are brand new beekeepers! Installed our first two hives a couple weeks ago! Joined our local association at the first of the year to learn from other beekeepers and it has been great! They have a FB page where you can post a question and you will get about five answers in a just a few minutes! Awesome! And we learn so much from the meetings! We also know a guy locally who will answer any questions we have....lots to learn!

Valarie said...

Hi Kiana, How exciting. Our first year is filled with so many memories. Take lots of pictures. Our association gives fee in-the-beeyard workshops each month April - Sept. so we were able to watch them work the hives and show us what to look for etc. We are so thankful for all help we received. It sounds like your beekeeping community is a bunch of givers too!