Beekeeping 101: Put on the White Suit & Head For the Hive, Honey

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Sure, going to the beach or a water park is the typical and standard summer activity, but have you ever thought to sign up for a beekeeping class? Round Rock Honey Beekeeping Academy in Porter teaches you everything you need to know about beekeeping.

Konrad Bouffard, founder and Master Beekeeper, began these beekeeping classes in 2007 and now has several locations throughout the United States., mainly in Texas. He hopes to expand the academies to more than 200 cities in the United States, Canada and the U.K.

"There's a talk that we give at the beginning -- basic info, vocabulary, what to expect when you get into the yard, all the way up to the intricate parts of bee biology," Bouffard says, "communication of bees, how they make honey, how the annual cycle of a bee's life works and then from there we put on bee suits, open up a hive and break it down as much as possible." Check out our slideshow on the beekeeping class.

The Porter location is taught by Tom Brueggen, who not only specializes in teaching beekeeping classes, but also sells and manages hives, captures bee swarms and can remove hive structures from your home.

During the first two hours, the class sits outside with Brueggen, campfire-style, as he explains the purpose of beekeeping, the basics of beekeeping and the differences among types of bees. Unfortunately, you must wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants or jeans, boots (or a pair of shoes that cover your ankles) and a hat to help see through the bee suit -- not exactly the most comfortable outfit to wear in Texas summer heat. However, the academy makes a strong effort to keep you in the shade and hydrated.

One of the first things Brueggen discusses is how to start and maintain your own beehive. He explains that the cheapest method is to catch a swarm or to do a bee removal. The second option is to buy a package of two to three pounds of bees with a Queen. But the third option, and coincidentally the most expensive option, is to buy a fully established colony; which is the easiest to put together.

Brueggen continues the discussion and explains the different types of bees found in a beehive: drones, workers and the Queen.

"In a man-woman relationship, the drone is the man that sits on the couch and drinks beer all day," Brueggen says.

Once the drones are kicked out of the hive, Brueggen explains that their one and only job is to mate with the Queen bee. The worker bees literally work themselves to death by doing everything they can to keep the hive in tip-top condition. These bees begin as nurses to the eggs, then become house bees that maintain the hive, followed by guard bees that protect the hive from intruders and finally become foragers that collect nectar for the hive. The Queen bee is twice the size of the worker bee, she is solid colored, has longer legs and reigns for almost five or seven years.

As the instructor explains the differences between each type of bee and general basics to beekeeping, he also gives useful tips, as in what to do if you get stung. He says to not baby the wound, like most of us are naturally inclined to do. Rather, use the back of your nail to scrape out the barbed stinger. He says the pain won't last as long if you don't rub it and try to make it "feel" better.

After the two-hour discussion, the class suits up in giant whie hazmat suits and heads over to see the bees. (No one was stung during this class)

What seems like a scary situation, is actually quite harmless. Brueggen makes every effort to keep nice bees (who knew?) that won't try to sting you even if you poke them, which he did several times to prove his point. After he opened the hive, and spritzed the bees with fumes of smoked pine-cones and water, the bees slowly crept out of the box. . To get a closer look, the class passed around comb sheets used to collect honey. Some of the sheets were filled with bees, and we even found the Queen bee on one of them.

One of the best benefits to keeping bees is to extract honey from their comb. Brueggen says that from 11 frames of bees, he can extract 30-35 pounds of honey, which he can also use for making wax-candles, soap, lip balm and lotions.

"Swarming is prompted by overheating of the hive," Brueggen says. "One of the best colony of bees I have came from a cutout job."

Round Rock Honey Beekeeping School promotes keeping bees naturally. In fact, Brueggen makes a note on his business card that he will not use toxins when removing bees from a home.

"Bees become dependent on chemical treatment," Brueggen says, "and if you miss a treatment, then your bees are toast."

"We strongly encourage people from getting away from any types of chemicals that can chemically alter the path of a beehive," Bouffard says. "We essentially chose a different route. We have zero interest in treating our bees with various chemicals and stimulants."

Without bees, Bouffard says a majority of the produce in supermarkets wouldn't exist.

"They provide 2/3 of the food in the supermarket," Bouffard says. "They [produce] are pollinated by bees, and wouldn't be there without the bees." (Might make you think twice before killing bees in your yard.)

At the end of each class, students can buy honey from the instructor after a few free samples during the instruction.

The next two classes will be held on July 20 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

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