Tuesday, October 13, 2015

CrossRoad Farm Beekeeping School

I know some of you may be shocked right now. 


I am sitting at the keys. 

I'm a little nervous. 

I haven't done this in soooo long. 

Hope I can remember how.

*deep breath*

*eyes closed*

*jumping in*

This has been the craziest year in so many different ways.  I'm not always good at preparation, but I'm not sure anyone could have predicted the many hurdles I've faced this year.  I am not willing to say I have made it across the finish line, because this race isn't over yet.  I do feel like I am maintaining a decent pace at this point.  No record setting times.  No championship ribbons.  Just slow and steady.  I am still on my feet.  No longer to the side of the road, heaving for a breath, red-faced, and suffering with leg cramps!

Earlier - yes.

Today - no.

This year, I jumped full in with beekeeping lessons.  I started teaching beginning beekeeping in 2014, but this year I expanded.  It is really funny, but at the beginning of the year I thought I would sign a maximum of ten students.  In my mind, that would be a reasonable and manageable number.  I ended up signing seven.

I would not have survived eight!

Not because my students are difficult.  They are amazing.  It was all due to the weather.  Time is limited when there is only so much sunshine in your life.  In the beekeeping world there are only so many things you can do on a rainy day.  You can build equipment, but you can't seal it or paint it.  You can make sugar syrup to feed your bees, but you may not be able to get out to the bee yard to give it to them.  You can read books on beekeeping, but let's bee honest.  Books on beekeeping usually lead to napping in my experience.

Not the most riveting material, if you know what I mean!

My class structure is on a personal level with one-on-one instruction.  I think it allows people to move at their own pace.  You don't get bogged down in a large group.  It gives me more freedom.  Plus, it gives everyone a better opportunity to get to know each other.  I never expected teaching to be such an amazing experience.  I would not have told you I would have enjoyed it as much as I have.  The 2015 Class were a very eclectic group.  Different ages.  Different backgrounds.  Different outside interests.  Different personalities.

All very beautiful people!  

With all their differences, we came together for the love of honey and the honey bee.  Everyone approached this new hobby with eyes wide open!  They listened.  They learned.  They asked questions.  Some even tested me on a few topics.  Another aspect of teaching, for me personally, is learning.  I don't claim to know everything.  If you ask me a question I do not have the answer to, I'm totally open about it, but I will have the answer the next time I see you.  One of the things I love most about beekeeping is the fact you will never know it all.  The honeybee is constantly being researched and studied.  I go to clinics every year to learn the new, latest, greatest, fill-in-the-blank about this intriguing little bee.

Each student starts with in-class lessons.  Not the most exciting part, but necessary.  We learn about equipment, the basic workings of a hive, and pests and disease.  Everyone jumped right in.  They took their classes.  They did their homework.  They built their equipment. 

Then...we had our first lesson in the bee yard.

I have to say this is my favorite part.  Taking a newbie into the bee yard for the first time is AWESOME!  I remember my first time.  I was a nervous wreck.  It also happened to be the day I would be bringing my bees home.  I mean, talk about sink or swim.  I stood in a group of about 20 other newbies.  We were all suited up and had our smokers going.  To a newbie, your smoker is your life line!  So you can imagine the amount of smoke we were putting out.  My eyes were watering.  I was coughing.  Finally, I looked at my instructor and said, "Either get me out in the bee yard now, or I'm going to run screaming from this place!"


In preparing to meet bees for the first time, I shared this experience with all involved.  We discussed what to expect.  What to do.  What not to do.  I asked them all if they had any questions or concerns?  Were they apprehensive?  Nervous...anything?  In true fashion, they were all very different.  Some openly nervous.  Some with serious reservations, but doing their best to hide them.  Some just ready.  Whatever their frame of mind going in, they all had the same response when we were done.

They couldn't believe it!

It was awesome!

It was not what they expected!

They were HOOKED!

They each went home to set up their apiaries.  They each waited in anticipation for the arrival of their honeybees. They were eager to get started.

Then the rains hit.

I started beekeeping during a drought.  It was all I had known.  I taught my students based on a typical year.  Then I had to look them in the eye and say, "Okay.  All that stuff I taught you?  Forget about it.  It's not happening.  We're going to do this instead..."  Luckily for me, they are smart cookies.  They could all see what was going on around us, and they could all understand the impact it was having on our bees.  I spent a lot of time this spring emailing my mentor, and asking him a million questions.  My mentor has been a beekeeper for thirty years.

He'd never seen anything like this.

North Texas started out celebrating a wet spring.  It has been a long time coming.  The land needed it.  The lakes needed it.  The people and the livestock needed it.  Then, it slowly started to turn to dread.  We had floods.  We had tornadoes and high winds.  We had hail storms.  We had rain for 27 of 29 days!  My students all hung in there.  The night we picked up and delivered their bees, we were dodging bad weather the entire time.  No one wants to be caught out in a hail storm, or heaven forbid, a tornado.  I certainly didn't want to experience either with a truck load of bees.

It was crazy!

Once the bees were all relocated in their new homes, the task of helping them build up in hopes of a honey harvest began, and the challenges continued.  We had a lot of hungry bees and we fed more than we normally would have.  Our spring flowers tried to come up, but the rains beat them back down. 

Little known fact:  Rain washes the nectar out of flowers.  It takes about 24 hours of dry weather and sunshine for the nectar to build back up.  Honey bees do not fly in the rain.  If it rains for 24 hours, then three or four hours of sunshine, and then back to raining...over and over again.  See the problem?  Those bees were hungry!

Pretty much the entire 2015 Bee Season has gone like this...

1.   Make a plan in anticipation of what the bees need.
2.   Go to bee yard.
3.   Realize your bees have not read any of the same books you've read.
4.   Admit your bees are not behaving in a typical manner.
5.   Your bees have their own plan.
6.   Go back and make adjustments according to their plan.
7.   Re-evaluate anything and everything you know about bees.
8.   Contact your mentor to pick his brain.
9.   Evaluate all available information.
10. Try Again.

The fact that these seven individuals had trusted me to teach them to be beekeepers weighed heavily on me.  I love my bees.  I wanted them to love their bees.  I also wanted each of them to be successful.  I would have taken it very personally if one of them had failed.  Somehow.  Someway.  We did it.  The Class of 2015 hung with me.  They adapted.  They bought more sugar than they have ever bought in their lives.  They fed their bees.  They checked their bees.  They worried over their bees.  This was a very challenging year to be a beginner, but they made it, and they all enjoyed a honey harvest. 

Hats off to all of you! 

You worked hard for that sweet reward!

I will continue giving lessons as long as I am able. 

The reward for me was much sweeter than honey!


  1. Love this!!! (especially point #3 of your The 2015 Bee Season Has Gone Like This...Ha!) Sounds like you're a great teacher - the best ones are always the ones who are willing to keep on learning!

    I really hope your weather calms down and your bees do beautifully!

    Oh, and I would totally be the nervous crazy person that first time in the bee yard. Get me out of here!!! ;)

    1. Thanks girl! The bees definitely took all the books I've read and threw them out the window this spring. Nothing they were doing was normal! They've bounced back. Instead of fall, it is hot here now, and they are enjoying a little more time to get ready for winter. I am just ready for it to bee over!

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  2. Thanks for this great post. I enjoyed reading it. We talked at the Flower Mound event and I signed your list for 2016 class information. Looking forward to it!
    Julie Smutzer

    1. Thanks Julie! Glad we met at the Festival. I have another market at D & L in Denton this Saturday. After we wrap that one up, I will work on getting 2016 class information out to everyone. Come out if you're free. I always love to talk bees!