Traverse Classics: Lessons in Beekeeping

What kind of people would bee people be? I wondered. Maybe they wouldn’t have time to talk to hobbyists. Maybe they would defend their sweet secrets like the bees defend their hives. But I thought I could at least get a couple of hints.

Inside the pole barn, the air was dark and sweet. Bees zipped past my face, and I soon realized that one entire wall was stacked floor to ceiling with white bee boxes. Two men in stained coveralls emerged from a back room and cheerfully introduced themselves as Brad and Brad, father and son beekeepers. I tentatively explained that I was a beginning beekeeper and asked if they had any advice they could share. Brad, the dad, didn’t hesitate. He gathered bee supply catalogues and an old American Bee Journal from his office. He pointed out the smoker and hive tool I would need. No secrecy. No Brad-to-Brad sly glances. He said they’d be happy to help with supplies as well, if I needed anything.

Back home, I pored over the bee catalogues. As I looked at hives and equipment, my list of questions grew longer and longer. What do the different layers and sections of a hive do? What does the smoke do? Where does the honey come from? How do we move bees?

The next day I phoned in our order for bee gear. The man on the other line identified himself as “Tiny Tim” (who later confessed he’s not so tiny, standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 300 pounds). As soon as I mentioned I was a beginning hobbyist, Tim began a combination pop-quiz/bee seminar with the question: “What do you do if you get stung—do you scratch the stinger or pluck it?” For $180 I got bee suits, veils, a smoker, hive tool, and a lot of helpful advice.

In fact, information and advice began to flow freely over the next few weeks from many sources. Friends and friends-of-friends who kept bees shared their experiences. People gave me equipment. I went to the library and checked out all the books on beekeeping.

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