BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — Tim Morris found out the hard way that beekeepers can’t be like a bull in a china shop when working around hives.
An engineer at the high-tech College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering in Albany, Morris and his wife, Adrienne, a novelist, reside in rural Fort Edward, Washington County, where they enjoy country living.
“We’re trying to get back to the land,” he said. “We have a little farm with goats and chickens.”
Three years ago he introduced bees, too, with a couple of hives.
“We started with two and I lost one,” he said, disappointedly. “So I bought another one. We lost that, too. I’m my own stimulus package.”
But he isn’t quitting, and this year he’s learning how to do things the right way as one of nearly two dozen students enrolled in a six-week Beginning Beekeeper School hosted by Southern Adirondack Beekeepers, at Cornell Cooperative Extension offices in Ballston Spa, N.Y.
“I wish this class was around three years ago,” Morris said.
The school runs through early May, when the sixth and final session will be held in a bee yard, in an open hive class. Each week, a different instructor presents a variety of topics.
On April 1, Aaron Morris, a 40-year beekeeper, led a class on “Working With Your Bees” that included things such as tools and protective equipment, getting comfortable with bees, and bee stings and remedies.
Aaron Morris, of Round Lake, N.Y., is president of the Empire State Beekeepers Association.
One of the most important things, he told students, is to use bare hands — not gloves — when working around bees.
“With gloves you’ll grab a bee and not know it,” he said. “Then you’ll sqush a bee and the hive will get angry.”
It’s better to simply brush bees off, which they don’t seem to mind. However, he acknowledged that working around bees with bare hands can be scary, especially for beginners. People may want to start with gloves, but should wean themselves off them as quickly as possible, he said.
“You can finesse them with gloves off,” Tim Morris said. “That’s huge because every time I go into the hive the bees are all riled up. I wish I’d known that before.”
High school student Cole Anderson, of Voorheesville, N.Y., said he’s taking the class with hopes of starting a beekeeping 4-H club. His parents own 80 acres in a rural part of Albany County where they’re trying to pursue “green” living with everything from chickens to solar panels.
“Bees will help our gardens,” Cole’s mother, Shanna, said.
Aaron Morris said increased media attention about the plight of honeybees has generated considerable interest in beekeeping. Many news reports have told how bees are being victimized by modern farm insecticides, seed coatings in particular.
“It’s (beekeeping) become a very in vogue thing to do; a kind of backyard gardening thing,” Morris said.
He gave students a variety of simple, but effective tips. For example, when building frames, it’s best to use a tack hammer, which is smaller, rather than a heavy claw hammer.
“Use the proper tool for the proper job,” he said. “Use a good glue, don’t use white paste. Then you nail all the pieces together.”
He displayed different types of protective equipment, too, from a full-body suit to a veil that fits over the head and neck. With a veil, he showed how to tie it properly to keep bees from getting underneath.
One of the first considerations for any beginner is selecting a good location for the hives. Morris said providing vehicle access is extremely important. Also, the ideal site is behind a windbreak just beneath the top of a hill, so that air flows down away from the hives, instead of blowing into them.
Having morning sun and afternoon shade along with nearby running water is important, too.
“You’d be amazed at the water sources bees go for,” he said. “They use it for cooling the hive, fanning their wings, more than drinking. They’re fascinating little creatures.”
Getting along with neighbors is probably the most critical factor of all, especially when homes are fairly close by. Sometimes, it helps to build friendships by giving neighbors a jar of honey, or explaining to them that bees won’t bother them.
However, even the most well-intentioned efforts don’t always pay off.
“I had a neighbor who told me he didn’t care what I did with my property,” Morris said. “Then six months later he sprayed my bees with insecticide. They’re stinging insects, so if there’s a conflict you’ll lose every time. It’s better to have them located so the issue doesn’t get raised.”
For information go to: www.adirondackbees.org or call 518-895-8744.