T: Greetings and thank you for talking with me! First question, how did you become a beekeeper?
L: I was the catalyst for this. I’m a biologist by training and when I started my first lab position after college, my boss, Chris Pargellis, was a beekeeper. He was generally a passionate and inquisitive guy and got me interested. In the back of my mind, I made a mental note that when I had a yard, I was going to have bees.
Six years ago, our first year in our house, I told Michael I was ordering a hive. The first thing I did was to purchase a Flow Hive. We were founding sponsors for the Flow Hive.
T: Do you use the Flow Hive still?
L: If I can convince him (Michael) to do it! [laughs]
M: It is easy to use, and because it was the first experience for us, it was very exciting to watch the honey pour out of the taps. We had bees eating the honey as fast as it came out! There were some other issues that we had with it, so it’s fallen to the back of the garage.
L: I actually regretted the purchase before the bees came. I ordered over the summer and got ready over winter. I attended the BYBA Bee School classes and remember coming home and saying “I should not have bought this thing” – It’s not the solution that I thought it would be.
T: Did you two have a mentor?
L: When I decided to jump into beekeeping, I researched resources in the area. I started going to BYBA meetings and requested a mentor so that when the bees came, we had someone to call and text.
M: Jeff Shwartz, our mentor, was willing to go along with anything.
T: Initially, what learning tools did you have access to? Books? Other hives?
L: We got “Beekeeping for Dummies” and “The Beekeepers Bible.” The first year, I was reading as much as I could. Another great resource… A Book of Bees by Sue Hubbell, she goes through the four seasons of beekeeping.
M: Very early in our beekeeping hobby, we were driving from Minneapolis to Albuquerque, and we listened to the audiobook “The Beekeepers Lament”. It’s about migratory beekeeping. It resonated with us because we were driving through the Dakotas. We stopped every time we saw a honey sign and brought back a bunch of different types of honey. We stopped at John Miller’s house and met his wife and his grandson…literally just walked up to his honey house and got to check out the extracting operation.
T: I remember when I met you both at the queen yard, you mentioned that you had the time to either raise honey bees for honey or rear queens. What led you to that decision and what was involved in the transition?
L: [laugh] It was a whim! Bee-Commerce was offering a rearing class – Leslie sent an email out – we didn’t have a lot going on and tried it out. We had never considered it before then. We signed up for the class, thought it was neat, and tried it for ourselves in 2019. We dabble in it. We graft our own eggs into the queen cups and don’t always have great success rates – I would say varied success. All the queens in our yard are queens that we have raised.
T: Is rearing queens much more hands-on?
L: There is a schedule that you have to follow – prepare the hive with a cloake board, graft eggs, then move the cells in the right time frame, prepare hives for new cells to go into…
T: I was reading that it has to be 69 degrees for mating flights to happen?
M: We did an early grafting round last year that wasn’t very successful.
L: I remember that getting over the losses was tough in the beginning. I was very optimistic! I named our queens. Was thinking “How cool!” We tracked them and the first named queens didn’t make it for very long. That was my first lesson. Now we number our hives and we focus more on the success than on the failure. We went into the winter with 11 full hives and 9 nucs, came out of winter with 10 full hives and 2 nucs. So, you can argue that we had a lot of loss, but the hives that we have are all looking really strong, and two have 2-year-old queens! Blue queens! This offset the losses. We have managed to keep queens alive that long!
M: Those will likely be the two queens that we graft from. Assuming that their brood pattern remains good in the coming months.
T: What do you feel have been the benefits of becoming involved in the BYBA?
L: Beekeeping is a complicated hobby. Lots of dimensions and ways that you can do it successfully. The BYBA has offered us so many resources with mentorship, bee school, speakers, workshops…the first year I was at every workshop. It’s just a forum for information.
T: How do you see your role on the board?
M: I don’t see my role changing in the coming year. In the first year I didn’t participate too much. I was on the survey committee and the mentorship committee. Even though Laura is not a board member, she is very involved. The most important thing that I want to contribute is a sense of better communication. I feel that it’s important that the membership is informed with enough time to add our events to their calendar. It would be helpful to know what is coming up in five or six weeks and plan around that.
T: What are you looking forward to the most in your queen yard this summer and for the remainder of the year? In your beekeeping practice in general?
M: We bought a piece of property and are building a house there and we are very excited to start a bee yard there. This is a property that has been in my family for years, since the mid1800s. We will move our beekeeping operation and our family there and settle in.
T: In closing, do you have any advice for new beekeepers or for people that are becoming interested in queen rearing?
L: My advice would be to use your resources! The BYBA offers so much to the membership and if you take advantage of it you are guaranteed to learn so much!
M: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be very open minded about different answers.