Feed your buzz: A&M AgriLife offers online intro course to beekeeping

This is a hobby where you can get your buzz.

Texas A&M AgriLife offers a course called Beekeeping 101 to give beginners a taste of what it’s like to partner with one of nature’s hardworking little animals, the honey bee.

The face-to-face course will take place on March 25th in San Antonio, but this seminar is fully booked. AgriLife is offering an online course that will take place on March 28-29 and April 6-7. The cost for four sessions of the two-hour online programs is $45.50.

“This program is designed for those with little to no prior beekeeping experience,” said Molly Keck, AgriLife Extension entomologist and Beekeeping 101 instructor, Bexar County. “We will get you started by teaching you the basics of beekeeping to prepare you to have your own hives. You will find out what to expect in your first few years as a beekeeper.”

The Beekeeping 101 course covers honey bee biology, beekeeping equipment, suit options, hive management, pest and disease management of honey bees. Both the face-to-face and online courses cover the same material.

So what’s not to like? Bees do all the work, they feed themselves, and all you have to do is scoop up the delicious raw honey that the busy bees have produced, right?

“I think it would be a great introduction, the only concern I have is if you’re not in a hive it’s more difficult. I mean, if you do an online course, great, you know what to expect,” said Dawn Johnston, who runs bee removal service R9 Hive and Honey in Lyford with daughter Devin.

“But sometimes when you open hives, especially where we are in the valley — and I don’t want to dissuade anyone from beekeeping — but people like trying to catch swarms, they’re like, ‘Oooh, free bees!'” She added. “But if you are in the valley, free bees are, or can be, Africanized bees. So I would always say the course is great, yes, but also get a bee mentor, someone who has more experience and can guide you through what you see, the sights, the smells, the sounds. “

Attention swarms

East African lowland honey bees were brought to Brazil in 1956 by a researcher who was trying to improve honey production in tropical regions by crossing them with varieties of European honey bees. A year later, 26 swarms escaped quarantine and defected.

The theory has since been that when they interbreed with established and gentler honeybees, aggressiveness would eventually be bred out of them.

But that doesn’t appear to be the case as the bees continue to advance north.

Dubbed “killer bees” by some, it may be an exaggeration, but nonetheless, in Texas, they’ve claimed lives by swarming and stinging victims en masse.

“Bees are kind of funny, they’re like us,” Johnston said. “Some people are really nice and some people are real jerks, you just never know who you’re going to meet. They have attitudes and come in different colors and shapes just like us. It really depends on the queen and her attitude how the hive will be. So if she is argumentative, they are argumentative.”

European honey bees can also sting if they protect their hive.

“Africanized bees tend to take up arms more quickly,” Johnston said.

The reality that Africanized bees are almost certain to be encountered here in the Rio Grande Valley makes finding a beekeeping mentor all the more important, she says.

“I always recommend you find a local bee club,” Johnston said. “We’ve got one in the Valley and/or a local beekeeper and we’re like, ‘Hey, can I give you a headache, can you take me to a hive?’ And I always offer that just so people know what they’re getting themselves into. It’s much safer that way.”

Bees circle around as Devin Johnston looks over a frame from an active hive at the family’s apiary in Lyford on Friday. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Where from to set high

The online AgriLife course covers many basics about honey bee life cycles, their caste system, where to set up a hive and how to understand what goes on in the hive.

But if you live within the city limits there may be ordinances against beekeeping and it may not be fair to the bees if they don’t have the space and the flowers and flowering trees to forage on.

“That depends on city ordinance and where you are located. When the city says no, no means no,” Johnston said. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t be a beekeeper. Maybe you have a friend who has two or three acres outside of town, or you know someone who has a ranch, a few hundred acres that you can plant bees on.”

“It just depends on what you want to do with them,” she added. “If you catch a swarm and release it in your backyard in the middle of a cul-de-sac in town and then expect those bees won’t visit your neighbors or irritate your neighbors – wrong! You have to know what you’re getting yourself into.”

So the apartments terrace is probably outside?

“Probably.”

costs can be high

Johnston warns that beekeeping, rewarding as it is, doesn’t come cheap.

She has about 150 hives, mostly with rescued bees taken from people’s homes or yards in the course of her business. A single hive can house up to 50,000 bees, and these bees, at least the wild ones, need about 264 pounds of honey a year just to survive.

“Keeping bees is very expensive. If I need to replace the lady, a lady costs $40. And that doesn’t include overnight shipping because they can’t just take it to the post office and hope it gets there,” Johnston said. “And there’s no refund for that. If she gets to you dead, no, you won’t get your money back.”

The boxes for the beehives start at around $150, and that’s for a relatively inexpensive model. And the protective suit?

“My suit is $180 and we go through them a lot,” she said. “If a suit gets a hole, believe me, a bee will find it. And they end up in your suit and they’re like, ‘We’re not happy with you.'”

“I want someone who’s interested to know exactly what they want to do because it’s a lot of work. And when one of those swarms comes along and takes your Italian queen out and puts their Africanized queen in there, you need to know. Just doing an online school gives you a lot of the basics but not the practical knowledge.”

To get a taste of this hands-on knowledge, Johnston says give her a call.

“If you want to come out and stick your head in a beehive just to see what it’s like, great! i have suits Come on let us go!”


beekeeping 101

WHAT: beekeeping 101 to the Beginner

WHERE: On-line

WHO: Texas AM AgriLife

WHEN: Four two hours programs march 28-29, April 6-7, 6-8 pm

COSTS: $45.50

TO REGISTER: https://agrilifelearn.tamu.edu/s/product/beekeeping-101/01t4x000002ciQP

Leave a Comment