Tapping the hive mind: Beekeeper groups help newcomers to the hobby

Feb 21, 2023 • 4 min. read | By Laura Moore

Local beekeeper groups provide information and community for those who keep bees as a hobby. (Stock photo)


There’s a buzz about beekeeping as a fun hobby, but experts advise a high level of commitment and respect for those looking to pick up the pastime. 


“To get started, like any hobby, you got to do your research, but this one involves live creatures, so you need to read books, watch YouTube videos, join a group,” Susan Warwick, president of the New Hanover County Beekeepers Association, said.


Gary Shoemake, president of the Brunswick County Beekeepers Association, agreed. 


“The first thing to do is to find a local bee club and go to their meeting and get to know people,” Shoemake shared. 


Local clubs offer support, help with problems and play a good role in beekeeping, Shoemake explained. He has been keeping bees for 15 years. 


“If I had not joined a beekeeping club, I would have gotten bees, they would have died and I would have given up,” Shoemake said. 


Beekeeper groups provide education and mentorship for new and seasoned beekeepers alike, according to Warwick. 


“It is a rewarding hobby, but it definitely has its challenges,” Warwick said. Warwick suggests a “due diligence” period before diving head first into the hobby. 


Part of that due diligence, Shoemake and Warwick explained, is checking with your local homeowners association to ensure that beekeeping is allowed in your neighborhood. They also advise to check with neighbors and be respectful to make sure there are no allergies or pools that may attract bees.


Bees are attracted to saltwater, so you may have to consider the distance from saltwater pools, according to Shoemake.


“Try to be a good neighbor. A lot of people are scared of bees. Respect that and talk with your neighbors,” she said. 


Warwick also noted that beekeeping “is not a cheap hobby.” She suggests checking out beekeeping catalogs online to get a sense of the required investment to get started. 


Hives, smokers, tools, suits, hats and gloves are all necessary components to start the hobby.


“It is more involved than just getting some bees and putting them in the backyard. It’s a lot more involved,” Warwick said. 


In addition to the initial investment of time and money, working with live creatures requires a different level of commitment than other hobbies.


“They are animals and you need to take care of them when they are contained in a hive. A lot of them starve to death in February if there is not enough honey to make it through the winter,” Shoemake said.


Both Warwick and Shoemake invite potential and current beekeepers to visit with their clubs. The New Hanover County Beekeepers Association meets the third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Halyburton Park and it is open to everyone interested in talking and learning about bees.


The Brunswick County Beekeepers Association meets at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month at the Brunswick County Cooperative Extension. Shoemake invites new people to come learn. 


“It’s been 11-12 years for me, and I am still learning,” Warwick said. “The more I learn, the more I learn what I don’t know.” 


The New Hanover County Beekeepers just finished their annual Beginner Bee School with “lots of excited new beekeepers,” Warwick said. Winter is the best time to take up the hobby, as bees are less active in colder temperatures. That said, Warwick encourages new beekeepers to wear a full suit when first handling bees.


“You will get stung. That’s kind of understood,” Warwick says. “Don’t put yourself in the position where you are nervous or anxious. Protect yourself, so you can calmly work with the bees.” 


While bees, and especially honeybees, play an important role in the health of the food supply with their effective pollination, Shoemake said the hobby also provides personal benefits.


“Backyard beekeeping is more of an enjoyment thing, but everybody benefits from the bees,” she said. 


In fact, beekeeping is so relaxing, Shoemake compares it to other hobbies that take the mind off more taxing thoughts. 


“When you are doing it, your mind doesn’t wander. It’s like riding a motorcycle, you’re keyed in on that motorcycle and not thinking about work. Same with the bees,” Shoemake said. “You’re not thinking of anything else. Nothing but bees. It sounds strange when I say it, but it really is relaxing. They are interesting to watch. It is calming. I love my bees.”