Beekeepers have been keeping and breeding honey bees and producing honey and other bee products since the year dot. After the emergence of forest beekeeping and hive beekeeping, the first beekeeping guilds formed in the 14th century. In the 19th century, forest beekeeping was abandoned and modern beekeeping began.
These days, as well as classic beekeeping in the countryside, beekeeping is increasingly appearing in urban areas and is growing in popularity – to everybody’s advantage. But public awareness of the importance of beekeepers for our well-spread tables is not as extensive as it deserves to be. Ultimately the health and number of bee populations in this country starts and ends with the passionate, knowledgeable work of the beekeeper.
In Germany around 700,000 bee colonies are cared for by almost 100,000 beekeepers. 80 per cent of these beekeepers keep up to 20 colonies, 18 per cent of the beekeepers have between 21 and 50 colonies, and just 2 per cent of all beekeepers have more than 50 colonies. Each beekeeper looks after an average of 7.3 bee colonies. Virtually 100 per cent of these beekeepers treat it as a hobby; just 1,000 beekeepers keep bees as a second job or are professional beekeepers. As a benchmark, 30 bee colonies are needed to earn money as a beekeeper as a second job; as a main job 100 bee colonies are necessary.
The new generation of beekeepers are increasingly gaining a taste for this important activity, closely linked with nature. This is good news because the survival of bees, which is threatened by the decline in flowers, the use of pesticides in agriculture and parasite infestation, depends on the commitment of beekeepers. And every beekeeper is welcome.
Anyone can be a beekeeper. Specific training, for example in animal husbandry focussing on the subject of beekeeping, is not strictly necessary. Extensive prior research, attending courses and ideally practical experience with seasoned beekeepers are, however, very much recommended. Beekeeping is a time-consuming activity, especially in spring and summer. Generally the work is oriented around the bees’ year and is a constant cycle. You spend lots of time outdoors and should not be afraid of insects. There is a reciprocal relationship between the bees and the beekeeper. The beekeeper harvests the honey and other products made by the bees in the summer. In return, he or she gets the bees safely through the winter by feeding and caring for them and providing them with suitable housing (beehives).
One of the most important and sensitive tasks of a beekeeper is dealing with pathogens appropriately, especially the varroa mite, which requires a great deal of experience.
Bee breeding is not typical for an amateur beekeeper; it is generally done by professional bee institutes and large-scale beekeepers. Here the priority is to breed healthy, resistant colonies and the targeted breeding of queens.