Oct. 14, 2021

Beekeeper Waxing & Waning (043)

Beekeeper Waxing & Waning (043)

Do you remember what it was like when you first started keeping bees? Beekeeping was easier years ago, and most of us wanted more bees, more hives, more skills, more of everything beekeeping. But there’s a next chapter. Beekeepers today are better...

To Bee or Not...Do you remember what it was like when you first started keeping bees? Beekeeping was easier years ago, and most of us wanted more bees, more hives, more skills, more of everything beekeeping.

But there’s a next chapter. Beekeepers today are better educated because there’s more to do now. So, it’s not wrong to want to take a day, a week, a whole season off. And there will be good times and bad times. And yes, some won’t come back.

Sometimes, learning something new will keep you going. Learn queen rearing, or pollen collection, or…. something you haven’t done before to get you going again.

But it’s OK to do something else for a while. Beekeeping will come back, or it won’t. And no matter what, it is alright!


We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2021 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 43 – Beekeeper Waxing and Waning


Jim Tew: Kim, do you ever get tired of beekeeping or just kind of wear thin a bit?

Kim Flottum: There's two kinds of that for me. One of them is, it's 95 degrees out. I'm toting heavy boxes, I'm getting stung, and I didn't get much sleep last night. There’s that kind of getting tired of beekeeping.

Jim: You have good days and bad days, right?

Kim: Yes. Sometimes, when I’m not doing anything, and I just think, “Do I want to go out there again?”

Jim: I understand. I understand. Hi, I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: We're coming to you from Honey Bee Obscura, where we're wondering if anybody besides Kim and me ever wants to take a day or two off from beekeeping.

Kim: [laughs]

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world, and engaging in informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things, honey bees.

Kim: Yes. There are days, when I want to take a day off, like I said, when it's 90 degrees, and I got a lot of heavy lifting to do, but that can be anything.

Jim: I want you to hold for a second. I want you to roll back the years, Kim, which probably frustrates people thinking, “Oh no, here they go again, some old story,” but don't you remember what it was like? You say, when it's 95-- when you were a third your age, that 95-degree thing didn't bother you, you had bee stuff to work. When I was a young beekeeper, I wanted a thousand colonies. I wanted to raise queens. I wanted trucks. I wanted it all. That heat thing didn't bother me then, so my waxing and waning is pretty much age related. What about you?

Kim: More in the last few years than when, like you, when I first started out. When you first start out, everything's new. Every time you turn around, there's something else you got to figure out. There's some new product. There's some new behavior your bees are doing that you got to learn to recognize and then learn to deal with, but after a bunch of years, those aren't so many anymore.

Jim: You've done it all before, and it doesn't mean you enjoy it any less. I'm still really happy to sit through talks and hear, what people are doing, collecting pollen, for instance. But I don't think I'm never going to, and in a serious way, put pollen traps on and collect vast amounts of pollen, and dry it, and store it, then do something with it. Been there, done that. I want someone else to do it, but I'm finished with that. “Let's move on to what, keeping bees at a horizontal hive. Let's do that.” Always the next chapter, right?

Kim: Yes. When I was teaching, and sometimes somebody come up to me after class or after the meeting that I'd been speaking at, and they'd tell me that same story. That's one of the things that I always suggest is, the first thing is learn something new. Because when you were just starting out, everything you did was learning something new, so now it's time to learn something new again. If you haven't raised queens, like you said, collecting pollen, horizontal hive, I'm sure that there's something that-- I don't care how long you've been keeping bees, there’s something you haven't done that now it's time to learn, and maybe that'll keep you going in the right direction.

Jim: I am a 100% in agreement. When you're as old as you and I are, and have done this as long as we have, you actually see things fade away that you spend a lot of time learning and doing that's not done anymore. For instance, Kim, when was the last time you embedded foundation and put eyelets in the end bars? But yet, there was a learning curve on that. You had to buy a wiring embedder, you had to get a transformer to plug the thing in, or you had to use a little pizza cutter-looking thing that just made a mess. That had to be learned, it had to be done.

Now, we all just snap in those foundation inserts, and the whole business of wiring foundation that we all learned to do, and kept us busy during the winter months, is no longer a job.

Kim: Yes. Just putting frames together, don't have to do anymore.

Jim: Folding bass wood boxes, for section honey. Everybody uses clamp packs now made of plastic. I don't know, maybe some of the suppliers still provide, but it’s pretty much down to nothing. There's folding, getting bass wood boxes ready for section honey, so a lot of the jobs we used to do, Kim, in the off season are not there anymore.

Kim: That's one of the other things that I do, when somebody asks me about this, is there's nothing wrong with taking a year off or two, or three, but there's nothing wrong with taking a year off. You give your bees to somebody else, keep the equipment, but give your bees to somebody else and take a step back. I don't have to go out there, when it's 90 degrees, and I can leave for two weeks, and I'm not going to get stung all summer long.

The people that I've talked to that have done that, some of them have come back and said, “That was really good, that year off. It made me wonder what am I missing, and-- I want to get back in there.” “I heard about this, and I want to try that,” and then some of the people don't come back.

Jim: Yes. When you were saying that, I was thinking, “You're going to lose some, but you're going freshen some up.” That's like treating high blood pressure. You can't tell who needs to be treated and who doesn't, until it's too late. You can't tell who to say, “Oh no, no, don't go, don’t go. Stay here.” But if they stay there, and they're tired, I don't know, Kim, is it a dirty secret that everybody doesn't stay in beekeeping? That people get in beekeeping, people have a good time doing it, people enjoy it, people go to meetings, people really contribute to beekeeping, and then they move on? Everybody doesn't spend a lifetime doing it. Is that like admitting something?

Kim: It's like a lot of hobbies. You do it for a while, and after you've done all that you want, and it's-- I’m not going to say not fun anymore-- it's not stimulating anymore, and you find something else that is. I know a lot of people that kept bees for a while. When I see them in the store or someplace, and I say-- or they ask me, “You still in bees?” and I say, “Yes, I still am. How about you?” “No, I got out of there about four or five years ago. I lost them one winter, and I lost them the second winter. I just kind of moved on to something that was more fun.”

Jim: Well, I hope it's not more fun. t's something that's different fun. They gave up beekeeping and took up water skiing, something dramatically different that had freshened their lives.


Sponsor: Better Bee as pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura podcast. For over 40 years, Better Be has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Better Bee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges, and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog, to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Better Be truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at betterbee.com


Jim: From those of us who are old time, long-term, there's not much you can do, except help the people who want to be helped, reassure the people who want to be reassured, and then-- we've all done it. Looked for a bargain on the equipment buyoff from those people who were giving it up. I mean, people come and go in beekeeping, in woodworking, in gardening, and everything. People come and go.

Kim: Yes. It's harder today than it was when you and I first started. By harder, I don't mean more difficult in terms of physical labor. I mean, there's more detail, you have to pay attention to that. Maybe more detail than people want in a hobby.

Jim: I didn't know you were going to say that, and I want to tell you that I agree with you 100%. Beekeeping in my earliest years, if you can believe it, was easier, how, academically? I guess I would say it was easier academically. If your bees died in the winter, you're going to have plenty of us swarms next year. People are going to call you, there'll be bees everywhere, queens were modestly priced. Your biggest concern was pesticide kills, but at the same time, it's just easier beekeeping. The beekeepers today, I told them at recent meetings that bee keepers today, are better educated, better aware, and more cognizant of how much money they're spending on beekeeping than the beekeepers of the '70s and '80s. There was just-- the penalty wasn't there, Kim.

Kim: Yes. You take a look at a beginner's book from the '60s and '70s, and you take a look at, well, the one that I did. You take a look at any of the beginners' books that are out there now, and they're twice as big. There's twice as much information now, and it's still getting you started. There's more to do to keep bees now. I'm not going to say it's harder or it's more difficult, but there's more to do.

Jim: It weighs the same. There's just more you have to learn. [laughs]

Kim: There you go. There you go.

Jim: The bleakest time for me, Kim, was when I bought them out during the winter. Right now, it's mid-September or late September. You know winter is coming. Well, you think, “I'm going to read a book. I want to assemble some equipment. I'm going to probably not do very much in reality.” But next spring or late winter, when those bees start to wake up, and I've still got bees alive, and it's time to begin to do things, the cycle starts all over again. My enthusiasm will come back from this winter doldrum and kind of pick up again. That was in same way, when I was in a warm climate, in Alabama, Maryland, in warmer climates. There was still nothing to do, when everything’s off, no honey crop, everything's done.

Kim: Sometimes, with nothing to do, that's better than having to have to do something.

Jim: Well, I guess, when everything's said and done, it’s that it's not wrong, it's not bad to have good times and bad times in beekeeping. When I go out, and the colony died during the winter, I don't have a happy day that day. I don't say, “Oh, great, great, Jim, good job. Another colony died.” No. That's kind of a downer day, but then, when you go out later in the season, and there's a three or four-pound swarm hanging there that are not your bees, they're free bees, then that's a good day. That night, when you dose off, you think, “That was a nice swarm. I love beekeeping.” It waxes and wanes, doesn't it?

Kim: Yes, it does. I think we should wane down on this one here. About time.


Jim: It's time to go be blue about something else. Thanks for talking to me and thanks for reassuring me and everyone else who might be listening now that it's okay to have up days and down days.

Kim: Come back next Thursday, we're going to do this again.

Jim: All right. Until then, bye-bye.