Between 45% and 75% of British beekeepers are newbies – in their first four years. Only 10% have been at it for more than ten years. I guess it’s similar in Canada, Australia, and the USA. I saw the UK numbers on Chris Slade’s bee blog and he heard them from Margaret Murdin who gave a lecture on Becoming a Proficient Beekeeper. She says that we are novices for the first couple of years, improvers for two to four years, then (hopefully) we acquire enough skill to be ‘proficient‘.
I think turnover is highest in the first year or two. Beekeeping sounded like a good idea at the time: Save the Bees™, Help the Flowers, Get Some Honey. Perhaps you were going to be a hippie farmer, but you were born forty years too late. That’s lucky. The guys in this picture apparently wanted to be farmers – that’s why they were hanging out at Yasgur’s dairy farm. After the cow, it was going to be bees. It wasn’t. They were grateful instead.
But then your bees arrived. They stung the neighbour’s dogs (all of them) and your spouse wasn’t particularly impressed with the way bees eat sugar, queens, and money. And where was all that free honey you’d promised?
Beginning beekeeping can be pretty devastating the morning after the bees arrive. Or the evening after your first attempt at extracting. Or when a mite-infested laying worker has brood infected with foulbrood. It can be grim. But beekeeping can also be addicting. Like gambling. You may grow fond of the little fuzzies and decide to soldier forward. (With all those tight upper lips, I’m surprised that 90% of English beekeepers give up within ten years.)
Your best chance at success is to find a mentor and latch on tightly. Mentors don’t come cheap – you may need to serve pie with a beer and listen to old stories of by-gone beekeeping. Old beekeepers love to talk. If you make the mistake of feigning interest during an epic swarm-capture tale, expect to hear the same story again and again. With some modifications.
But your mentor will encourage you in a few ways. You’ll learn surprising tricks that will keep your bees alive. Maybe you’ll make some honey. However, the most significant lesson will come when you eventually realize that if that old geezer who has been talking your ears off can keep bees alive, well, so can you…