If you’re just getting started with keeping bees, you’ll want someone to show you the ropes. It’s always wise to read up as much as you can before actually handling bees—learn about their social structure, hive dynamics, workers’ roles and everything the queen does. But as much as we love geeking out on our bee books, they can’t stand with us, watching our first hive inspections and lending a guiding set of eyes, ears or hands. For this, the new, aspiring beekeeper needs a mentor.
A beekeeping mentor is a seasoned beekeeper who has the time and availability to guide you, hands-on, through your first beekeeping season. Ideally, this person has been in the field long enough to feel comfortable with standard beekeeping practices and knows the domestic honeybee really, really well. If we’re making our beekeeping mentor wish list, you’d also want to find someone you connect with and jive with—someone who understands you, respects you and will guide you through your chosen beekeeping practices, philosophically and physically.
So the big question is: Where do you find your beekeeping mentor?
1. Your Local Beekeeping Club
If your town, city or neighborhood has a beekeeping club, it’s your best bet for finding a good mentor. Local clubs usually hold meetings monthly, discussing pertinent topics as they relate to both local and global issues. For local issues, think things like current weather patterns and long stretches without food sources for your bees, and more. For global issues, think about the spread of Varroa destructor or new finds in honeybee research.
Beekeeping clubs are a great place to find members that are engaged, care about bees and want to see the next generation of beekeepers succeed. Speak to one of the board members about your search for a mentor, and they can make announcements at the meetings, on the club’s website or Facebook page, or send your contact information through the club’s email address books. There are so many ways to connect here!
2. Your County Extension Office
If your municipality doesn’t have a club but there’s a beekeeping chapter at your county extension office, start there. This free service is invaluable to beekeepers and gardeners alike. Visit or call their offices and ask them to spread the word; they may be able to share your information in a number of ways, such as those listed above. They may even have the names and contact information on file of available beekeepers who have offered to mentor newbies.
3. Social Media
We are more connected than ever thanks to social media. As you get started with keeping bees, follow beekeepers on social media sites, such as Instagram and Twitter, and, most importantly, join a local beekeeping group on Facebook. You can quickly and easily post that you’re in search of a mentor and be able to talk extensively with potential candidates before even meeting. Facebook’s chat and messenger option is great for real-time conversations in between real-time meetings with your mentor.
4. Word Of Mouth
Never underestimate the power of the word of mouth! If none of the above options have worked for you, you may have some good old-fashioned legwork to do. Ask around to anyone you may know who is connected in the farming community or who may know beekeepers. Visit your local homesteading supply stores, and ask there; they may even allow you to post to a bulletin board (so retro, I know).
Whatever you do, don’t give up. To be the best beekeeper you can be means getting started on the right foot. Having a mentor as you kick off that journey with offers you an unparalleled opportunity to learn the art of beekeeping in a very special way—together, with someone who knows and communes with bees.