It Depends

Canada and District Beekeepers Association. I was about half way up the aisle when I snapped this. It was a big meeting!

Calgary and District Beekeepers Association.
I was about half way up the aisle when I snapped this. Big swarm of beefolks!

Last night we had another meeting of our local bee club, the Calgary and District Beekeepers. These are becoming legendary events with over 150 bee people, sipping coffee and doing bee-talk.  Although it’s great fun mixing with so many nice folks all at once, many bob up with  peculiar questions, issues, or observations in tow.

Our meetings’ organizers always leave a bit of time for questions, but most beekeepers don’t want the weight of 300 ear lobes thrust upon their personal bee problem. So old timers get questions before the session starts, during the coffee break, and while we are packing up and sneaking towards the exits.

Here are some of the questions tossed around last night:

  • My honey isn’t capped. What should I do with it? (I heard that one from three different beefolks.)
  • Wasps are attacking my hives. How can I stop them?
  • What’s the best extractor to buy?
  • There was a pile of brood in front of my hive. Why?
  • I have four good hives, but I think that the fifth might be queenless. What should I do?

There is only one correct way to answer these questions. Start with “It depends…” and then draw out details that help form a decent answer.

However, when such questions float among us, beekeepers with just a little experience often step forward, answering quickly and confidently. Sometimes they nail it, but too often they confirm Abe Lincoln’s admonition about keeping one’s mouth shut (and looking foolish rather than opening it and removing all doubt). Actually, that’s not quite fair. Usually any answer will be correct in some situations. Either “Kill your bees” or “Don’t touch nuthing” might nail it.  It depends.

In contrast, the ‘mature’ beekeepers in the club drone on and on with long-winded explanations which beeginers find annoying.  “I just want to know what to do, I don’t want the history of beekeeping since Aristotle.”  However, mature advice should begin with “It depends” followed with several scenarios. To me, this is the only way to answer cold-off-the-street beekeeping questions.

Beware of the confident beekeeper who can answer all your questions quickly and easily. When most people start beekeeping, they understand it thoroughly. They have it figured out. They know everything. But as time goes on, they realize that bees do unexpected things and each season and each location adds nuances to bee behaviour.

My favourite beekeeping adage goes like this:

Beekeeping is one of those things where you start off knowing everything, but as time goes on, the bees show you that you know less and less – finally, if you live long enough, you realize that you don’t know anything at all.

About those questions: unsealed honey, wasps, extractors, dead brood, and weak hives. Will I answer them?  …It depends on whether I have time tomorrow.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Beekeeping, Culture, or lack thereof, Friends, Outreach and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to It Depends

  1. Pingback: What Do You Do with Open Honey? | Bad Beekeeping Blog

  2. acquest13 says:

    We have a saying over here that goes something like ‘if you ask 5 bee keepers how to do something you will get 7 answers’.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: How Can I Stop Wasp Attacks? | Bad Beekeeping Blog

  4. Emily Scott says:

    Great post. The more you learn, the more you become aware of the many different possibilities of bee behaviour and the harder it becomes to give a simple answer. Bees are not simple!

    Liked by 1 person

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