Being a Beekeeper 101
By Shelley Widhalm
Backyard beekeepers not only produce local raw honey, but if they garden or have fruit trees in their yards, they will reap bigger harvests from the extra pollination.
But to get into beekeeping takes knowing about bee and hive behaviors, as well as diseases and pests, so the Northern Colorado Beekeepers Association offers the annual Beginning Beekeeper Class to cover the basics. This year’s class will be 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 25, Feb. 1 and Feb. 8 at Poudre Valley REA, Inc., in Windsor.
“We try not to give out too much information. We want to make sure you can get through the first year,” said Tim Hardy of Berthoud, president of NCBA and a beekeeper for more than 10 years with two hives in his backyard. “We don’t need you to be an entomologist at the professional level. We just want you to have fun and know the basics of a beehive.”
The class, taught by NCBA club members Carolina Nyarady and Greg Bowdish, will cover the bee, the hive, the first year in the beehive, and bee diseases and pests. Nyarady, a master beekeeper, developed the curriculum for the class, along with NCBA’s mentoring program and the first master beekeeping certification program for the Colorado State Beekeepers Association, of which NCBA is an affiliate. Bowdish, a beekeeper for more than 15 years, is a longtime member of NCBA and CSBA and participated in the CSBA master beekeeping developmental committee.
“It’s very much a 101 course, Beekeeping 101,” Hardy said. “We take it over three days, so you get quite a bit of information.”
Members of the NCBA board will be available during the class, which typically has an attendance of 60 to 75 students and as many as 100 students. Students who complete the class will have the opportunity to join the association, to order bees at a savings since the association purchases them as a group and to work with a mentor.
The class is an accredited CSBA class for the apprentice level of the CSBA master beekeeper class. The CSBA offers beginner, apprentice, journeyman and master levels of the class, while most beekeepers clubs and businesses around the state will offer at least the beginner and some, the apprentice.
The NCBA board is considering offering more advanced levels of beekeeping in 2021.
“We don’t work as fast as our bees,” Hardy said. “It takes time to build a good class.”
The NCBA, which has more than 300 members of hobbyist and commercial beekeepers, meets the third Thursday of the month at The Ranch in Loveland, except during November and December. The association provides talks and demonstrations on one or two subjects related to beekeeping and hive maintenance during each meeting.
“There is something about working with nature and bees. They’re smart creatures,” Hardy said. “They all have a job. They all work hard. … Bees can be in a good mood most of the time. They can be temperamental. They’ll let you know, especially in the fall when you take their honey.”
In January, beekeepers typically consider ordering bees to start a new hobby or to replace hives that may have died out from disease, predators or the cold.
“This is the time of year we start thinking about how many bees or colonies we need for the yard and also ordering woodenware, which is boxes,” Hardy said. “Then that way everything shows up in April just in time for spring.
A key subject covered at the meetings is hive inspections, which are important to identify and treat diseases and to ensure the queen bee is laying enough eggs in a good pattern (the average queen lays 2,000 eggs a day), Hardy said. Other subjects include handling swarming when hives split and one of the queens and her bees start a new hive or colony, checking for mites and pesticides and harvesting the honey in the fall, usually in August or September (commercial beekeepers harvest year-round).
For harvesting, honey is collected in honey supers, typically three or four per colony. The typical hive produces four to five gallons of honey, Hardy said.
Hardy likes to leave behind a few food stores for his bees to use during the colder months, taking honey at a ratio of two to one, or two for him and one for the bees. He would rather have the bees feed off their own honey instead of a water and sugar mix that doesn’t have the same nutritional value, he said.
“Then we brag about how much honey we got,” Hardy said.
NCBA typically ends the year with a party in August or September where members bring something made with honey. Next year, the association is considering hosting a holiday craft show called Beezar—the association has had craft shows in the past and wants to bring them back.
“Beekeeping is important because people like to eat. Three of four bites of food is the result of pollination,” Hardy said. “If we don’t have bees, we don’t have food.”
For more information about NCBA or to sign up for the class, visit www.nocobees.org//beekeeper-classes.
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