I began beekeeping in the spring of 1991; I remember the beginning vividly because my oldest daughter Carson was born that spring—on the same late February day when the Persian Gulf War officially ended. In 1990, the summer before I established my first beehive in a Langstroth deep super in our backyard in Albuquerque’s South Valley, I took a short beekeeping class with Les Crowder, at the Rio Grande Nature Center, in Albuquerque’s North Valley. Co-author of the recently published Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health, Les is one of the United States’ foremost top bar beekeepers and teachers. I was fortunate enough to have him as my own first teacher and mentor. He continues to be an inspiring mentor and example for many of us in the organic and top bar beekeeping community. One of several important truths that Les has taught me is that the best teachers about bees and beekeeping are the bees themselves. I have tried to pass that wisdom on to my own students, as I also continue learning from the bees, and from other beekeepers.
As I see it, the first and primary “teacher” in the phrase “honeybeeteacher” is the honeybee herself. In the sense that I am engaged in teaching others about all of the myriad things that are related to honeybees and beekeeping, I am also a “honeybeeteacher.” But this teaching and learning begins with learning from the honeybee….
Well, to return to the story about my own beginnings as a beekeeper and how I eventually got into teaching others about beekeeping: after about fifteen years of being a small-scale backyard beekeeper—around 2005–I decided that I had now learned enough about beekeeping that perhaps I could start teaching others about honeybees, especially young people. By that time I had been teaching writing, Environmental Studies, Sustainability Studies, American Indian Studies, Applied Indigenous Studies, and other subjects for several different universities and colleges for more than twenty years; however, I had not yet taught a course about honeybees or beekeeping. Now was the time.
I tested the waters by doing free short presentations about the differences between top bar and Langstroth hive technologies at my friend Chuck McDougal’s Mountain Meadow Farm in east Flagstaff, Arizona. A permaculture enthusiast and small-scale farmer, Chuck has been a long time supporter (financial and otherwise) of my gardening and beekeeping work. For several years I have been taking care of beehives at his place in Flagstaff’s “banana (yucca) belt,” near the base of Mount Elden. People’s responses to my “bee talks” at his place were positive and enthusiastic, and I was hooked.
My first formal backyard beekeeping class was offered through my friend Joe Costion’s Organic Agriculture Certificate Program at Coconino Community College (CCC) in Flagstaff. Another friend, carpenter/beekeeper Steve Strider, co-taught those first couple of courses, and we spent part of one class showing participants how to build your first top bar hive with simple tools and scrap lumber. These academic credit/non-credit workshops typically began on a Friday evening and then continued all day Saturday and for a half day on Sunday. The first couple of three-day courses were co-hosted by Mountain Meadow Farm and Willow Bend Environmental Education Center.
After the CCC weekend workshops, I went on to teach several similar but slightly more expanded “sustainable backyard beekeeping” short courses for The Arboretum at Flagstaff, where I worked as Director of Gardens and Horticulture between 2003-2005, and for Dr. Sandra Lubarsky’s Master of Arts in Sustainable Communities Program (SUS) at Northern Arizona University (NAU). The SUS courses at NAU were especially pleasurable and enlightening experiences; I got to work with a small group of especially bright and motivated young people. These were intense learning and teaching experiences for me, and, I hope, for the participants, some of whom are now backyard beekeepers themselves. (Click here for a short video showing an SUS Sustainable Backyard Beekeeping class.)
My friend Russell Crawford is one of these former SUS students. He and his father and brother are beekeepers, as well as master carpenters, and they have made several beautiful, custom-made roofs for some of my hives. They also build beautifully functional, custom-made top bar beehives from sustainably harvested local lumber. Located in Sedona, Arizona, their business is called House Mountain Wood Working Studio.
In 2012, I offered my first top bar beekeeping workshop outside of academia, and it was a joy. I enjoyed the courses that I taught for NAU, CCC, and The ARB, but teaching a more expanded, in-depth workshop on my own was even more rewarding.
Like the earlier classes, the 2012 workshop was very hands-on. We worked with several different top bar hives in the Sedona area, but focused upon the life of a single top bar hive that was located in the backyard of a friend’s house in West Sedona. We established this colony as a package in a “Golden Mean” hive that I had purchased from backyardhive.com, and then painted blue with non-toxic “milk paint” from the Milk Paint Company.
There were four classes—each five hours long, including a one-hour working lunch break—beginning in June and ending in September. We met for one Saturday morning in June, July, August, and September, and spent at least one hour during each meeting interacting with the bees. Our direct, hands-on beekeeping experiences were augmented by short lectures, discussions, and question and answer sessions. One day during the Southwest’s monsoon season it began raining lightly just after we opened the hive. The first real monsoon rains of the season were just about to begin pouring down. We quickly closed the hive and spent the rest of that rainy afternoon indoors, watching a video about top bar beekeeping and tasting local, regional, and global honey varietals. The class turned into a celebration of the blessings that the Southwest’s rainy season brings to the plants, to the bees, and to us.
My classes are usually small (about ten to fifteen participants, maximum), hands-on, and intimate. We get to know one another, and we get to know one or more colonies of bees in a more than casual way. What is really great about this way of teaching and learning is being able to participate together in the unfolding, expanding life of one or more colonies of honeybees. Each colony and each class is different.
In 2016, I will be offering an “Introduction to Sustainable Beekeeping” workshop in Flagstaff, Arizona. This hands-on workshop will be held at our home apiary in Flagstaff, Arizona, and will include twenty total hours of instruction. We will also be working with other hives living in the Flagstaff/Oak Creek area. Class dates are all on Saturdays, from nine a.m. to two p.m.: June 4; June 25; July 16; and August 6, 2016.
Each workshop will be limited to twelve participants. For more information, go to the 2016 Workshops tab. We hope to see you in Flagstaff this summer, near the base of Mount Elden.
More Information About Consulting & Public Speaking
As an educator, beekeeper, and organic gardener with about 25 years of experience—nearly all of it based here in the Southwest—I am available for public speaking, consulting, and other kinds of events. Most of my talks about honeybees are about one hour long and are tailored for specific audiences, including children. Some of these public speaking presentations are also hands-on. We are also offering honey tasting “flights.” This event is similar to a wine tasting flight, only more educational and focused upon the amazing variety of local/regional honey varietals, from northern Arizona and beyond.
Besides public talks, presentations, lectures, and other events, I am also available on an individual basis for general consulting and swarm removals. Many people with whom I have consulted have a hive of honeybees themselves but need extra guidance or help, or are seeking help in designing a pollinator-friendly garden, or creating an ornamental vegetable garden. I catch swarms, usually free of charge, and also consult about live colony removals (although I do not do these myself). For more information about my public speaking engagements, consulting services, rates, etc., please write to this e-mail address:
firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (928) 600-1193. I look forward to working with you. Viva las abejas!