At the meetings (sorry I've missed a few, Anita!) the members teach skills they have to the others. I am learning about solar water heating, cattle care, fruit tree grafting, and now, beekeeping thanks to the knowledgeable group members and the guest speakers who come to talk to our group.
Meg McGee is a member of the livestock group and a master beekeeper, as well. She offers classes at the classic adobe home she is renovating, her gardens and bee yard our classroom. Meg believes in hands on education, so that's what we have been doing, acting like beekeepers while she guides us in our learning.
|That's Meg on the left giving us important bee info. Paul, on the right, is an experienced beekeeper but continues to learn.|
The type of beehives we are using are called Top Bar Beehives. Coffin shaped, simple boxes have wooden bars spanning across the tops. Simple and cheap to make, these hives are easy to maintain and inspect, bees don't usually need medicines living in this type of hive, less equipment is needed, and the queen can go wherever she wants, which I understand isn't possible with the box type hives which keep the queen separate from the honey.
|Some of Meg's hives. That's Jonathan, listening intently.|
The hives are simple to inspect. We just lift the bars up one by one to look at the brood combs or the honey combs.
|Inside the hive with some of the bars removed so we can see what's happening.|
Our tasks at this class were to identify drone and worker bee cells, identify the drones and workers and to find the queen. She was busy at work, laying eggs, which we were able to identify within their cells. The bees were not concerned with us and kept doing their bee jobs while we were visiting. Smoke from the bee smokers kept them docile, but these bees are pretty mellow all the time.
After lunch we learned about swarming behavior, heard a tale about collecting bees from within the walls of an old barn from two of our class members, and a cautionary tale about a black widow spider bite and the local medical care available for dealing with such an event. Note to self: Find doctor in Taos or Santa Fe.
Members of the Sangre de Cristo Livestock group taking the class get credit for the hours spent learning. When they reach forty hours of bee training, they will be eligible for a gift of bees from someone else in the group who received bees previously. It's called Passing on the Gift and a large component of the Heifer program.
Eventually the plan is for all the beekeepers in the area to form a co-op to sell the honey. Because there's money in honey.