By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer
A Baylor economics professor and his wife taught aspiring beekeepers the basics of the craft Thursday night at the Mayborn Museum.
The three-part Beekeeping for Beginners course is part of Baylor’s Continuing Education program and seeks to educate prospective keepers on the fundamentals of hobbyist beekeeping. Fourth-generation beekeepers Lourenço and Rosangela Paz presented the first class Thursday night, and, though no live bees were present, began with the necessary disclaimers that come with handling stinging insects.
“[Beekeeping] is a risky activity,” Lourenço Paz said. “Not as risky as crossing the street, but you should take precautions.”
The Pazes listed five rules of hobby beekeeping beginners should follow: (1) safety first, (2) nature is always right, (3) every beehive is unique, (4) every beekeeper is unique and (5) to remember to have fun. The most important part to the presenters: safety, includes using the proper protective clothes and tools, but also knowing what to do when things go awry. For example, Lourenço Paz said if bees do attack, one should flee instead of fight.
“If bees are attacking you, do like cartoons, and jump in a pool,” Lourenço Paz said. “Or just hose down the person.”
The second point, nature is always right, means fighting against nature is futile act. Sometimes, Lourenço Paz said, factors such as the weather mean success may not be in the cards.
“As any farming activity, your success will depend a lot on the weather. If the weather is not going to help you there’s pretty much nothing else you can do to counteract that… you accept that and do whatever you can,” Lourenço Paz said.
Each beehive is unique, and Lourenço Paz said traits typical of one may not show up in another.
“Each beehive is like a kid, they have their own mind — they have their own mood,” Lourenço Paz said. “Each queen bee as we are going to see has their own genetics, you don’t know what is in there. Maybe they come from a family of very nice bees but that queen in particular, she may be very mean. You never know.”
Another pitfall is believing what works for one beekeeper will transfer seamlessly to another’s hives. A myriad of environmental influences affects a beehive, including geography, Lourenço Paz said.
“Every time you talk to a beekeeper, they will give you a formula for success,” Lourenço Paz said. “Then you have got to remember two things: you are not him or her, your bees are not his or hers, and also one more, your beehives are not located in his or her land… It will be kind of a process of learning about the place you chose for your bees, the behavior of the hives and so on and so forth.”
More than anything else, except safety, Lourenço Paz said beekeeping should be a fun hobby.
“Last, but not least, always keep in mind that you’re doing this to have fun,” Lourenço Paz said. “And sometimes [agricultural tax] exemption, but it should be fun.”
True to this last point of advice, Fiona Bond and husband Bruce Longenecker are considering picking up beekeeping as a hobby. Longenecker said it was an “interesting topic on its own,” and Bond said they’re weighing the benefits of hobby beekeeping.
“We both grew up in very different climates to this one and so I guess you know, part of the motivation is just seeing what flourishes here,” Bond said. “I think that honey tastes of the area that it comes from… there are a lot of health benefits potentially to eating local honey as well and so we’re kind of curious about whether that would be a good fun hobby for us.”
The Pazes brought in a myriad of tools to show off during the class, including a protective bee suit, smoker and parts of a hive. In addition to this specialized equipment, Lourenço Paz also said there was a use for a more common object: a brush.
“If there is a place where’s there’s lots of bees and you want to remove them fast [you can use the brush],” Lourenço Paz. “The side effect: the bees will get mad at you. They hate this.”
Lourenço Paz said careful planning and patience is key to getting started with beekeeping. Most keepers shouldn’t expect to produce honey in their first year. When a hive does start producing enough honey to harvest, Lourenço Paz said renting the equipment to harvest and process the honey is usually more cost-effective than buying due to the high cost and low resale value. What can be harvested much easier, and what Lourenço Paz is an often-overlooked product of beekeeping, is beeswax, which can be substantially more expensive than honey.
“If you don’t do anything crazy with your bees, the beeswax you produce is actually food-grade,” Lourenço Paz said.