Why I’m Going to Be a Beekeeper

“I have to know,” my school advisor leans in. I’ve been telling her about the absolute joy I’ve been getting from working with goats, the beekeeping class I recently completed, and our plans to branch out into beekeeping at Brightheart. “Is the whole colony collapse thing really a big deal?”

The answer honestly seems to depend on who you ask. A little over a decade ago, colony collapse disorder (CCD) was a huge deal in permaculture and homesteading circles. Beekeepers were reporting extremely high rates of unusual honey bee activity. CCD looks like the sudden loss of worker bees, leaving queens and brood and honey reserves behind. Since the hives cannot sustain themselves without worker bees, eventually they just die.

Lately though, bee populations seem to be stabilizing. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the number of hive losses attributed to CCD dropped by almost 60% between 2008 and 2013. Read more from the EPA here.

This doesn’t mean colony collapse disorder isn’t a problem anymore. Researchers hypothesize that CCD could be caused by four major concerns: pathogens, pests, pesticides, and environmental stressors. If you think about it, all of these concerns can be related to the labor demands placed on hives by our industrial agriculture system. The American Beekeeping Federation estimates that two-thirds of the 2.7 million colonies in the U.S. are employed to travel the country and pollinate crops ranging from almonds to apples, broccoli, and blueberries. This labor potentially exposes them to new diseases and pests which they can then carry on to other areas as well. And while we can’t just ask the bees how they feel about the work we expect of them, the relationship between CCD and our labor demands provide some sense of how the work is impacting their health.

Pat Loves Bees

To me it seems that fostering local pollinator networks along with educating local beekeepers could help resolve some colony collapse concerns. And that’s just what local shops and organizations everywhere have been doing!

For instance, this past Autumn Michael and I both attended a beekeeping workshop hosted by Colony Urban Farm Store in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. We aren’t beekeepers yet, but I know it’s something we both hope to bring to Brightheart in the coming years.

Are you concerned about the health of bees or interested in getting into beekeeping yourself? Beekeepers come in all different shapes and sizes, and you don’t even need a farm to get started. Lots of people actually keep hives right in their backyards! The best way to start is to connect with other beekeepers near you. Do a little research for local honey shops or a beekeeping group at the state or county level where you live.

Other locals can check out Colony Urban Farm Store, the Forsyth County Beekeepers Association, the North Carolina Beekeepers Association, and NC State University’s Beekeeper Education & Engagement System (BEES), all of whom offer or can connect you with classes to learn more.

The ethical treatment of animals and all laborers (human or otherwise) is very important to me, so getting involved in this relationship between bees, people, and food is a way I hope to make a difference in the world around me. That’s why I definitely have plans to start beekeeping as soon as possible.

What about you? If you’re interested in beekeeping, what inspires you?