The buzz is that senior beekeeping is fast becoming a sweet new diversion for older adults in many countries around the world. Indeed, observers note that more and more people from all age brackets are taking up beekeeping.
Some analysts have suggested that the pandemic may have prompted the recent “outbreak” of interest in senior beekeeping. When COVID-19 slowed life worldwide, authorities encouraged people to stay in their homes and busy themselves with outdoor activities.
Many countries saw a surge in pursuits such as gardening, camping, hiking, urban agriculture, and birdwatching in 2020.
You would have caught a hint of that outdoor mania had you gone online to shop for vegetable seeds, gardening supplies, or hiking and camping gear that year. Chances are, you would have found only a handful of outdoor supplies and equipment left on Amazon.
Call it the beehive mentality if you must but there appears to have been an equally impressive increase in the public’s interest in beekeeping at the time.
Research shows that consumers worldwide began to take an interest in the valuable role of honey as an immune enhancer and antiviral agent during the pandemic. This renewed interest in the sweet, golden, syrupy bee product drew much public attention to backyard beekeeping.
- 2 A Growing Enthusiasm for Beekeeping Worldwide
- 3 The Marvelous Benefits of Senior Beekeeping
- 4 Where and How to Learn the Basics of Beekeeping
- 5 A Word About Bears, Bees, and Beekeeping
- 6 Before You Begin …
- 7 Rediscovering a Magical Connection with the Natural World
A Growing Enthusiasm for Beekeeping Worldwide
Today, even as the world cautiously moves on from Covid 19, many pandemic beekeepers have kept on tending to their beehives. Urban beekeeping has become a trend in New York City, where authorities estimate that there are now at least 600 active beehives throughout the city.
You’ll find them on the rooftops of Riverdale all the way down to Battery Park. Many of the hives are unregistered.
There is now an equally vigorous beekeeping community in Melbourne. There, urban beekeeper associations like Melbourne City Rooftop Honey work with local communities to host their hives. The public has responded to the organization’s efforts with an exceptional level of interest.
The Marvelous Benefits of Senior Beekeeping
Quite apart from the multi-billion-dollar global commercial beekeeping industry, millions of people of all ages throughout the world raise honeybees as a leisure activity. Many of the world’s newest beekeeping enthusiasts are seniors.
Senior beekeeping provides older adults with a fulfilling and rewarding pastime in later life. You’ll find senior beekeepers caring for hives, looking after colonies, collecting honey, and enjoying their retirement in the company of buzzing honey-makers everywhere these days.
And why shouldn’t they? Here are just 4 of the many reasons you should get into beekeeping right now.
Beekeeping is Good for the Senior Mind.
Senior beekeeping involves studying the complex behaviours, life cycles, and biology of bees. This includes understanding their roles within the hive, how they communicate, and how they contribute to the ecosystem.
Bees and their unique characteristics are an intellectually stimulating subject of study. Western honeybees, in particular, have a sophisticated social structure within their colonies.
The complex and intriguing social construct that rules each honeybee colony includes a well-defined class system. There are workers, drones, and the queen. Each class performs a vital function that is essential to the hive’s ecosystem.
Senior beekeeping permits you countless occasions to study and understand the communication methods that bees employ. This requires observing and noting intricate behaviour patterns and interactions within the colony.
Senior beekeeping also engages – and sharpens – your problem-solving skills. The many challenges of beekeeping – such as hive maintenance, pest control, or managing swarms – require continuous analysis.
To keep their colonies healthy, beekeepers must maintain a quick ability to assess situations, troubleshoot problems, and find solutions.
These challenges promote the application of critical and analytical thinking, both of which are important to the maintenance of a lively mental disposition among older people.
Senior Beekeeping Offers Opportunities for Light Exercise.
While senior beekeeping does not require strenuous work, it involves various physical tasks that provide valuable exercise for older adults.
The components of a beehive – such as honey supers, frames, and hive boxes – can vary in weight. Carrying out routine tasks that involve lifting and moving these components improves upper body strength and muscle tone.
Regular maintenance tasks like cleaning the hive, repairing equipment, and ensuring the hive’s stability require bending, squatting, and reaching. These repetitive movements contribute to the flexibility and balance of seniors.
Often, too, senior beekeeping involves the maintenance of gardens to attract bees. Tending to these areas involves hours of planting, weeding, and watering. These activities occasion additional physical activities.
Senior beekeeping activities primarily take place outdoors, too. Spending time in the yard, or in gardens and rooftops, exposes beekeepers to wholesome, health-giving sunlight.
Sunlight helps the body produce Vitamin D. Older adults need sufficient levels of Vitamin D to ensure bone health.
At the same time, sunlight triggers the release of serotonin in the brain. These hormones promote feelings of happiness – in older people, especially. In turn, feelings of happiness and wellness reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Of course, fresh air is rich in oxygen. It is without the pollutants of the air you breathe indoors. Fresh, clean air leads to better respiratory health. Regularly breathing in fresh air can improve lung function and the overall well-being of older people.
The healthy mix of physical activity and exposure to fresh air and sunlight allows multifaceted benefits for seniors. It supports the improvement of the physical health, mental well-being, and overall quality of life of older beekeepers.
Beekeeping Allows Seniors to Contribute to Food Security.
Senior beekeeping helps farmers raise our food. Honeybees are important pollinators. They are the main animal pollinator of nearly 90 percent of the crops that people grow for food.
By ensuring natural pollination processes, bees help people to grow plants from which the human population derives fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oilseeds.
The daily routines of senior beekeeping likewise contribute to the conservation of bee populations. More and more these days, the world’s bee populations face threats like habitat loss, pesticide exposure, and diseases.
By protecting and maintaining healthy and active bee colonies, senior beekeepers add to the ongoing conservation of different bee species.
Senior Beekeeping Allows Older People Access to Ample Supplies of Honey.
To raise honeybees is to produce honey. People across cultures and millennia have valued honey for its health benefits. The ancient Egyptians, the Greeks of antiquity, and the emperors of China all prized the healing properties of honey.
Today, we know that honey is exceptionally healthy food for older people. While it’s primarily composed of sugar, it also contains small amounts of nutrients like vitamins B and C and minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium.
For seniors who might have decreased appetite or difficulty eating, honey can serve as a natural source of energy and nutrients. The antioxidants present in honey, such as flavonoids and phenolic compounds, can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.
This can be especially beneficial for seniors who confront age-related conditions like arthritis or cardiovascular issues. Honey possesses natural antibacterial properties, as well. This makes it an effective salve for wound management and healing.
You can apply honey as a topical treatment for minor cuts, scrapes, or burns. It will help prevent infection and promote faster healing. Some doctors have even used medical-grade honey, like Manuka honey, in clinical settings for wound care because of its potent antibacterial effects.
Honey, particularly raw and unpasteurized varieties, contains enzymes and beneficial bacteria that can support digestive health. It may help alleviate symptoms of indigestion or constipation, common issues among older adults.
Honey is sweeter than sugar, so a smaller amount can be used to sweeten foods and beverages. For seniors watching their sugar intake or dealing with conditions like diabetes, using honey in moderation can be a preferable natural sweetening option.
Where and How to Learn the Basics of Beekeeping
Older men and women who are interested in senior beekeeping can explore various avenues to learn more about apiculture.
Check the beekeeping associations or clubs in your area. They often offer classes, workshops, or mentorship programs for beginners, including seniors.
These associations might have experienced beekeepers who are willing to share their knowledge with you, as well.
Several online learning platforms offer beekeeping courses that are suitable for seniors. You can also find YouTube channels devoted to beekeeping.
Hundreds of apiculture experts have published books and manuals on beekeeping. Libraries often carry a selection of these books. These publications can be a valuable source of knowledge for beginner beekeepers.
Keep an eye out for beekeeping workshops, seminars, or similar gatherings in your area. These gatherings might offer demonstrations, practical sessions, and opportunities for you to build a network of experienced beekeepers who can offer you advice.
A Word About Bears, Bees, and Beekeeping
Our own interest in beekeeping began in books and in the senior beekeeping stories of one friend, in particular. We’ll call the friend Steve for the purpose of this anecdote.
Steve once found himself in a situation that many senior beekeeping enthusiasts in North America have experienced.
In a roundabout sort of way, the circumstances involved in the predicament in which Steve found himself were as old as the order of the natural world itself.
Fact Number One is that bees make honey.
Fact Number Two is that senior beekeeping enthusiasts love honey.
Fact Number Three is that bears love honey, too!
Fact Number Four is that any honey-loving senior beekeeping enthusiast who finds himself between a bear and a honeycomb frame dripping with honey is in big trouble.
Steve was harvesting his hives one morning when he realized that he had forgotten his aerosol can of bear spray in the kitchen. As always, he had enjoyed a cup of coffee in the kitchen of his new home in the North Coast of California just before stepping out into the yard to check on his hives. He figured he must have forgotten the bear spray on the kitchen counter that morning.
Just as he turned to to retrieve the aerosol can, he caught a split-second glimpse of a large dark shadow moving among the bushes at the edge of his backyard. He only saw the shadow from the corner of his eye and through the veil of his beekeeper hat. He could no tell what it was. But something in him – perhaps an instinct handed down through generations of farmers chased from their fields by predators – sensed imminent peril.
Steve lifted the veil of his hat to confront the mysterious intruder with an open gaze. It took a moment for our senior beekeeping friend to realize that what he was looking at was a bear . And the animal was only 15 yards away .
Steve was well-aware – or at least he had previously been informed – that a healthy North American Black Bear can rush 15 yards in as little as three seconds for an attack. There was no way he could outrun the bear and make it back into the house.
Steve and his wife had just moved into town from San Jose City just two years earlier. He knew there were bears around. He had even seen a few from a distance in the woods in the outskirts of town – hence, the bear spray. But it never really occurred to him that we would need it. He had purchased the bear spray as a precaution rather than a necessity.
Now, we are told that the best way to survive a surprise encounter with a black bear is to keep calm and slowly back away. In the wild, most run-ins between bears and people will be uneventful.
In almost every case, the bear will turn and run. For example, in its 145-year history, and with over 120 million visitors each year, only eight people have been killed by bears in Yellowstone Park.
In fact, experts say you are far more likely to die of a bee sting in Yellowstone rather than a bear attack. Indeed, you are more likely to be murdered in your own home in America than killed by a grizzly in Yellowstone.
But then none of these facts and figures are apt to enter the mind of a senior beekeeping enthusiast who unexpectedly finds a particularly large specimen of black bear in his backyard. Steve was not in Yellowstone Park, after all, and was, by his own admission, “something of a nervous ninny.”
Ensure Your Safety with an Electric Fence if You Live in Bear Country.
So, what can senior beekeeping enthusiasts do to protect their hives and themselves if they happen to live in bear country? Tony Pisano, a senior beekeeping expert and author of the book, Build Your Own Beekeeping Equipment, advises senior beekeeping enthusiasts to erect an electric fence around their property even before they install their beehives.
Pisano says a tough, well-grounded electric fence of 6 or 7 strands of electric wire powered by a good charger is the best protection against bear damage and bear attacks.
Wide-impedance energizers deliver higher voltages, especially in dry soil conditions. They work better as predator deterrence than portable electric fences and low-impedance fences.
In addition, experts say that you should combine your hives into bee yards. When sufficiently fenced, a bee yard can provide robust security for both you and your hives.
Pisano also points out the importance of maintenance and regular testing. “If a tree overhangs your fence, a bear could climb it and drop down inside,” he says. “If the vegetation around your fence isn’t kept trimmed, depending on your charger, it can weaken the battery to the point of being ineffective.”
If you are a dog lover, you may also consider augmenting your electric fence with a bigger dog or two. Dogs are good deterrents against bears. So much so that ranchers use dogs to protect their livestock against bears and other large predators.
If you’re unsure – or do not know – how to build or test a fence, Pisano suggests that you attend workshops run by your town or local beekeeping organizations. Otherwise, have professionals build the fence.
While good fencing is a bit on the costly side, when the cost is reckoned against potential personal injury and losses to hungry bears, it is certainly a reasonable expense.
“Some people don’t bother,” Pisano says. “Some don’t think there will be a problem [with bears] where they live.”
If you think discouraging bears with an electric shock is cruel, think about how cruel Steve’s fate might have been, had it not been for a quick-thinking neighbor who scared the bear away by honking his truck horn.
Before You Begin …
Aside watching out for bears, keep in mind that it’s crucial to consider any serious health and safety concerns before you begin raising honeybees. Consult your doctor to discuss the potential risks involved in senior beekeeping.
You may be more susceptible to severe allergic reactions – or you may have pre-existing conditions – that could worsen with a bee sting.
Even if bee stings pose no serious threats to your health, wear a full-body beekeeping suit made of a thick, breathable fabric. You should also get a protective beekeeping hat with a sturdy veil, gloves, and other protective gear.
Remember to get in touch with local authorities before you begin your beekeeping project. Many areas have specific regulations governing beekeeping. These regulations may include rules about the number of hives you are allowed to keep, distances from property lines, and hive placement.
You should ensure that you comply with these regulations to avoid legal issues. This is particularly true if you intend to sell honey from time to time for extra income.
Rediscovering a Magical Connection with the Natural World
People have been interacting with bees for thousands of years. In age after age, from one millennium to the next, humanity has extolled honeybees for being more than just creatures of the natural world.
The ancient Egyptians revered honeybees as descended from divinity. They believed that the sun god, Re, wept and his tears became bees. The Greeks considered the bee a divine animal that represented the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone.
Medieval manuscripts portray the Roman Catholic Church as a hive. The priest was the queen bee. The Cardinals were drones. Lay people were depicted as worker bees. Why the people of these long-ago cultures associated honeybees with the divine might be indicative of a connection with our natural surroundings.
People today seem to have somehow lost and forgotten that once-treasured relationship. Who knows? If you stick to learning senior beekeeping long enough, you just might find that magical connection again.