So you want to be a beekeeper? Learn how

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ST. GEORGE – Everyone knows that honeybees are in trouble, and a lot of people want to help. Getting a backyard beehive sounds like a simple solution, but actually keeping a hive of bees is not as simple as it used to be and there is a lot you need to know first.

A beekeeping class scheduled for late February is the ideal way for beginners to get started learning the complex art of properly handling bees and managing hives.

“The way that you keep bees nowadays has changed,” Casey Lofthouse, commercial beekeeper and county bee inspector, said. The bee population is challenged more now than in the past.

“You can’t just buy a beehive (and) put it in your backyard with the hopes that you’re going to help the bees’ sustainability,” Lofthouse said. “You’re perpetuating a problem.”

Well-meaning amateur beekeepers can actually do more harm than good, Lofthouse said. Beekeeping is basically a form of animal husbandry, so it’s important to understand the bees and the challenges they face.

In his role as county bee inspector, Lofthouse serves as a public information officers and fields hundreds of calls each year from the public and from beekeepers. Many of them are from frustrated beginning beekeepers who’s hives are failing. This is where education comes in, he said, and a class can help newcomers get off to a good start.

“They’re going to invest in equipment, and invest in bees, the suits and all that,” Lofthouse said. “They should have someone that can help them along the way and be successful.”

Pests and disease in hives that aren’t properly managed can quickly become a problem that spreads and affects “the guy next door or the commercial beekeeper down the street,” Lofthouse said.

“If you truly want to help the bees’ sustainability, then the first thing you need to do is educate yourself on how to manage a colony and take care of your bees just as you would any other type of animal,” Lofthouse said.

It’s more detrimental to buy a hive and throw it in your backyard in the hopes of saving the bee population than it is to do nothing, Lofthouse said.

“What happens is those bees die. They might not die the first year, they might not die the second year. But over time, they are going to get foulbrood diseases … and all this other stuff that can be spread to other healthy colonies,” Lofthouse said.

The problem is compounded when other hives “rob,” or harvest, remaining honey from a weakened or dead hive, further spreading disease.

It is important for beekeepers to learn the signs of disease and how to treat problems – or, at least, when to call for more experienced help.

The class

The Beginner Backyard Beekeeping Class scheduled for Feb. 26-27 is aimed at beginners, however, all experience levels have attended in the past and are welcome, Lofthouse said.

The class is being given jointly by Lofthouse and Cory Martin, commercial beekeeper and owner of Muddy Bees Bakery. In addition to baked goods, Martin offers bee “packages” – 3 pounds of bees and a queen which can be introduced into an empty hive – along with other beekeeping supplies and local honey.

Martin and Lofthouse have been helping new beekeepers for many years and said they are anxious to help people who are just getting started avoid problems.

“Starting from day one with bees, and taking them through that history to where we are now with the equipment we are running,” Martin said, “and identifying different things that are going on in the hive … parasites, pests and disease and be able to know when you need to feed your hive or treat your hive.”

The most important part is being able to look at a frame of bees and know what’s going on with them, Martin said.

Among the class topics are general bee knowledge, the history of bees, hive components and placement, identifying different parts of the hive and the stages of life in the hive, and keeping bees docile and manageable in an area where Africanized bees live in the wild. Beekeeping etiquette, which entails being a good neighbor while keeping bees in an urban environment, will also be discussed.

The annual beekeeping class is growing in popularity, Martin said. “Last year it was huge, and this year … we may even have to split it up and do two classes.”

All who want to attend will be accommodated, and registration is requested by Feb. 7, to ensure the proper equipment for the class is available.

Lofthouse recommends that anyone planning to attend the class first read “Beekeeping for Dummies,” which explains the basic concepts and terminology of apiculture. He also recommends the book for anyone interested in honeybee sustainability or beekeeping.

Resources

Details

  • When: Feb. 26, 6-10 p.m. | Feb. 27, 8 a.m., all-day hands-on practical session
  • Where: Hurricane Community Center, 63 S. 100 West, Hurricane
  • Cost: The class costs $75 | $50 if you sign up with a friend | $25 for students under age 18
  • To register, see Muddy Bees Bakery website, the Muddy Bees Bakery Facebook page or Lofthouse Honey Facebook page
  • For questions, contact Cory Martin at 435-467-4898 or by email | Casey Lofthouse at 435-467-2787

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Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

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