Backyard beekeeping is a rapidly growing hobby, with people from all walks of life joining in on the fun for the first time each year. Folks from the city, those living in rural settings, even apartment dwellers and full-time RVers are embracing this exciting venture. And while it’s true that men typically dominate the beekeeping world, women are one of the fastest growing groups of new beekeepers in many regions of the United States.
However, many women have questions or concerns that aren’t addressed in standard beekeeping meetings, books or conferences, such as how to lift those heavy boxes or how beekeepers can move hives around when going solo. So here’s a little primer to get you going, as I myself had to answer these questions many years ago as I began my own solo journey into the world of beekeeping.
First Things First
Before you make your first bee purchase, attend monthly beekeeping meetings regardless of how intimidated you may feel sitting in a room full of men. I’m from a Southern town where most men in the beekeeping community are big and burly farmers, often with gray hair and deep, gravely voices. I understand firsthand how anyone, regardless of gender, may feel a bit apprehensive by these guys.
However, most of the folks I’ve encountered over the years have been nothing but helpful and kind anytime I’ve had questions.
In fact, all my mentors—and I’ve had many wonderful ones—have been those exact same gentlemen that I was once unnecessarily intimidated by. And my beekeeping operation would not be where it is today—350 colonies at its peak—without the vast amount of beekeeping wisdom each of these mentors has given me. It ranges from how to move those heavy boxes by myself to how to raise queens, how to best manage nuc production and even how and when to expand my operation. Without the timely guidance of these mentors from the beginning of my journey, I would likely not even be keeping bees today.
So how do you obtain a mentor or find someone willing to answer your questions? Sometimes it can be tough, especially when not attending monthly meetings or living in an area that doesn’t have a local beekeeping association. You may need to expand your search outside of your local area by attending beekeeping schools, beginners’ classes or even beekeeping conferences that may be offered throughout your state or nearby regions.
For instance, folks such as Kent Williams, an Eastern Apicultural Society Master Beekeeper and commercial beekeeper in Wingo, Kentucky, are more than eager to assist new and old beekeepers alike. Williams offers a free annual beekeeping school at his home place each April with the Lake Barkely Beekeepers Association to do just that—teach new and experienced beekeepers of every kind the ropes of beekeeping. He also speaks at countless conferences and beekeeping meetings around the country each year to further share his decades of experience just so others may be successful in beekeeping.
“When looking for a mentor, it’s important to choose someone that makes you comfortable,” Williams says. “This might mean picking someone of the same gender as you, but that is not an absolute … be sensitive to any possible jealousy issues from family on either side of the mentorship. It is difficult to learn when you are not comfortable.”
Some things for those in a mentor/mentee relationship to consider include the following. “The mentor is not there to do all of the work for the mentee,” William says. “But ideally, [he or she] should demonstrate the work once and step back while the mentee completes the task, while offering advice and either corrections for mistakes or affirmation for proper work. Be respectful of your mentor as they have almost certainly paid their dues by suffering the consequences of making the same mistakes you will make.
“The purpose of a good mentor is to help the mentee avoid the pitfalls we fell into.”
“The heavy lifting has been the biggest struggle for me so far,” says Heather Wicker from Bay, Arkansas, a solo newbie beekeeper and owner of The Bees Knees Motel.
Over the years, I’ve encountered countless women concerned over how to handle and move those heavy boxes, which can weigh anywhere from 60 to 100 pounds each, as well as moving entire colonies when needed. However, there’s no need to feel embarrassed when seeking guidance in these matters because I have a little secret to tell you: No one enjoys lifting or moving those boxes. In fact, nearly everyone complains over the weight issues. As a result, those very same men can offer loads of helpful advice to make the movement of those boxes a breeze if you’ll just ask.
So, I asked Williams what his advice is on these matters so you don’t have to. Fortunately for us, he offers three solutions to this issue.
1. Share the Work
Grab a friend or fellow beekeeper to share the workload. Just remember this helper doesn’t have to be a beekeeper. They simply need a protective suit and an understanding of what is expected, including the possibility of being stung through the bee suit.
Williams also recommends utilizing the various tools available for moving equipment (such as the two-person hive lifter) when moving entire colonies.
2. Break the Job into Bite-Sized Pieces
“One way to accomplish this is to move one frame at a time into an extra box, which could be stationed on a garden cart/wagon, wheelbarrow or truck tailgate or bed. Then repeat the process to unload,” Williams says.
“This will take more time and some planning, plus extra equipment … but it is less expensive than the third option.”
While this option may seem to be primarily for those seeking commercial status or for someone who wants 100-plus colonies, don’t be too quick to dismiss this potential option if your budget allows.
“Mechanizing can take different forms according to your budget and needs,” Williams says. “It may be as simple as a set of hand trucks and a small trailer with a ramp. [It] could also escalate to the same dolly coupled with a lift gate or a small swinging boom with a cable and winch, or on the more serious end of the spectrum, a skid loader or articulated wheel loader and flatbed truck. These are the different possibilities for consideration when searching for solutions to handling heavy hives and honey supers.”
These aren’t the only solutions to the heavy lifting issues, as beekeepers are a creative sort and often find many solutions to each problem. And Wicker offers yet another solution to this problem.
“I have learned that I need to adjust my hives to be lower to the ground to make that much easier for me. When it comes to removing the boxes that are full for inspection, I need to remove a frame to be able to place my hand inside for leverage due to the weight.”
Beekeeping equipment can be expensive, and in today’s economic climate, we’re all searching for ways to save money.
However, many women find building equipment intimidating, as well, especially because most of us don’t typically spend our days performing carpentry work with power tools and the like. So I reached out to a couple of new female beekeepers to see how they managed this concern in their own operations.
“Building equipment was a learning curve,” Wicker says. “The man I bought my supplies from gave me instructions, and I watched a few videos to get it right. The equipment I used was trial and error. Once I had what I needed, it was fairly easy to build. My only complaint that I would have is how time-consuming it becomes.”
Lori Corbett from Jonesboro, Arkansas, a beekeeper for two years, echoes Wicker. “I am always in for a bargain so I began making my own equipment,” she says. “Use Google and YouTube. Look up what you want to make for your hive and make it! You will save a ton of money that way.”
Here’s where a mentor comes in handy even when building equipment. Williams, yet again, offers advice on how to build good-quality equipment while saving money.
“If you plan to produce your own equipment, make sure the dimensions are correct [and] consistent from box to box,” Williams says. “Take into account the proper ‘bee space’ between the top of the frames in a lower box and the bottom of the corresponding frames in the next box (1⁄4 to 3⁄8 inch)…. Grade of material is not as important as the preservative or paint used. Get the best grade paint you can afford, or have your equipment wax dipped.”
When exploring the exciting hobby of beekeeping for the first time, many folks—men and women alike—find they question whether they’re up to the task of being beekeepers, be it due to the heavy lifting, the building of equipment, handling of chemicals … the list goes on. However, because the beekeeping community is still predominately male, many women are a bit unsure of how to enter this world or even if they can become beekeepers.
With just a bit of confidence and some good guidance, women of all ages are just as capable as the guys to being stellar beekeepers, whether as a hobby or as a business. You just need to take a deep breath and walk into that room. Tap a gentlemen on the shoulder, and begin to ask questions.
Kent Williams, an Eastern Apicultural Society Master Beekeeper in Wingo, Kentucky, reminds new beekeepers that we all, women and men alike, can learn from any level of teaching.
“Attend meetings and conferences,” he says. “Ask questions. Never think that a subject or class is above your level of beekeeping. Everything that is written or taught affects the beginner and the greatly experienced exactly the same. The difference is in the reaction, which is what you learn in classes you consider above your intellect.”
Lori Corbett from Jonesboro, Arkansas, a beekeeper for two years, advises lots of research and then simply jumping in with both feet. “I did a lot of research online, watched tons of YouTube videos,” she says. “I also joined my local beekeepers club. It is important to be able to talk to others that have been there and done that. You will get a wealth of information from the club. You would be surprised at how much thinking, research and learning goes into beekeeping.”
Heather Wicker from Bay, Arkansas, a solo newbie beekeeper, proves that even a new beekeeper has plenty of wisdom to share with others.
“Beekeeping has actually become something very personal to me,” she says. “It has helped with mental health and learning how to have more patience. Spreading the little knowledge I have learned in just one season has opened up others’ eyes on how important they can be for our environment, too.” This article appeared in Hobby Farm Home, a 2024 specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. In addition to this piece on women beekeepers, Hobby Farm Home includes recipes, crafting projects, preservation tips and more. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such as Healing Herbs and Goats 101 by following this link.
This article appeared in Hobby Farm Home, a 2024 specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. In addition to this piece on women beekeepers, Hobby Farm Home includes recipes, crafting projects, preservation tips and more. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such as Healing Herbs and Goats 101 by following this link.