October 20, 2014

From a Book to Honey Bees: A Teenager’s Journey into Beekeeping

by Sarah A. Gould

My journey with bees is one that is different from many of the stories of my fellow beekeepers. For one thing, I began beekeeping at 15 years old. This fact alone differentiates me from many other beekeepers who perhaps have turned this hobby into a side career or retirement hobby. This is not say that there isn’t a strong population of younger beekeepers, but compared to the rest of the beekeeping population, we certainly stand out. My start with this hobby began the summer of my Freshman year of high school, though the bees didn’t enter the picture until a few months later. Like every student enrolled in the honors English class at Sanford High School, I was faced with the unpleasant task of reading a book, keeping a journal of my responses to the text, and completing a thick packet of grammar worksheets. Just what every kid wants to do in the summer, right?

Wanting to get a head start and get the misery over quickly, I approached my English teacher for book recommendations. Sharing many of the same interests as myself, my teacher recommended that I to read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. Little did I know at the time how big of an impact this book would have on my life.

Sarah Gould installs a freshly caught swarm of bees.

Sarah Gould installs a freshly caught swarm of bees.

From beginning to end I loved this story, but more importantly I was intrigued by the life of the honey bees depicted in the story. I had to learn more. Once summer ended school consumed me, however the notion of beekeeping never left me alone. Finally one night while watching TV, I decided to learn more about beekeeping. In between commercials of the show I was watching, I would sprint up the stairs to my computer and research how I could get bees of my own. Though I was certainly overwhelmed, my enthusiasm remained and my parents and sister watched as I become engrossed with all the info I found. Ironically, my mom is a preschool teacher and at the time one of her preschool families kept bees. Seeing my excitement, my mom arranged for me to go to an open hive session with the beekeeper. This gave me the first true taste of the hobby. After the event, my parents never heard the end to my thoughts on bees. Into the end of fall and beginning of winter, I continued to pursue the hobby.

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, I must say I let my interest in bees be known. Every morning before school, I would tell my mother and sister some new fact. I inquired whether or not my parents would allow bees. Every since I was little, my parents have been used to my interests in rather different hobbies. Like the others before it, my parents probably figured the beekeeping idea would slowly fade as the year went on. To their surprise it never did. For Christmas my one wish was a beehive and I must say I will never forget the expression on my parents’ faces when they saw how genuinely I wanted to become a beekeeper.

When Christmas morning arrived, I scanned around the tree for the shape of a beehive. The last present I opened was a cinder block on which I was to mount my new beehive. I was ecstatic. Arriving back at school, my friends were sharing what they got for Christmas. As usual most had received iPod Touches, iPads, new laptops, etc. When they asked me what I got, my reply was “well I got a beehive, and my package of 12,000 honey bees will arrive in the spring.” To say the least, this brought forth quite a reaction and I was bombarded with questions.

The bees arrived in the spring, and from then on I became an official beekeeper. As beekeeping is quite a unique hobby, my family and friends became very curious. When my friends would visit, the brave ones would suite up and go into the hive with me. My more cautious friends would sit by the screen door in my living room. Not wanting to miss the action, I would carry the frames up to the door; behind the security of the screen, my friends would watch the industrious workers.

Now in my third summer of beekeeping, I have taken on another aspect. With so much curiosity from the public and the well being of honey bees in peril, I have made it my mission to educate as many people about the amazing honeybee as I can. To date, I have done around six presentations with audiences ranging in age from kindergartner to adult. My presentation is one that I have created myself, though 80 percent of the time I give the audience reign and give my presentation by way of answering their never-ending questions. Their questions are one of my favorite parts of the presentation. Some of the more memorable questions that come from both kids and adults are: “If there is a queen bee, is their a king bee, too?” and “so the bees make honey for us, right?” or my all time favorite, “you let your bees out — aren’t you afraid they will fly away?” When asked questions like these, I often try my best to stifle a giggle, but I always smile and do my best to enlighten people to the truth of the matter. No matter the age group, the reaction is always the same. They think I am somewhat crazy, but in the end they can see just how amazing my “girls” really are.

With two teachers for parents, it does not come as a surprise that teaching has made its way into my new passion. Looking back on it, it amazes me how many people I have met and shared my hobby with. I have converted my teacher and a family friend to the hobby, and at school I am tracked down by students, teachers, and even the assistant principal for honey. It truly is fulfilling to know that I am educating so many people about the bees and also helping to show people how gentle and vital honey bees really are.

With college on the horizon, my future with beekeeping is unknown. If I had my way, I would install an observation hive in my dorm room, however I am not sure how well my roommate would like that. What will most likely happen is that my parents will be roped in to continue the hobby for me. Until then, I plan to continue my presentations. And no matter where I end up, it is certain that my love and appreciation for honeybees is something that will never change.

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