By Dr. Steve Payne, Louisiana Beekeepers Association
There have been many reports in recent years about the challenges for survival of native bee populations, as well as an increasing public interest in the hobby of beekeeping. The number of local or area beekeeping clubs in Louisiana has more than doubled in recent years, with at least 17 of these clubs meeting regularly now. There were almost 700 registered beekeepers in the state in 2016, according to reporting by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
Some of this interest has come from individuals, couples and families who view beekeeping as a means to help preserve the critical crop pollination and environmental niche that bees fill. Louisiana residents often have gardens, orchards or crops on their property for which pollinating insects benefit the quality and quantity of plant yield.
Although some of Louisiana’s registered beekeepers have over a hundred hives and a very few have more than a thousand hives, the median number of hives kept by these state beekeepers is only four hives. So the great majority of registered state beekeepers can be considered hobbyists, rather than commercial or sideline beekeepers.
Anyone interested in learning more about honey bees and beekeeping can obviously go to a bookstore or library to scan basic books on these subjects. As valuable as this information can be, it really can't compare with the more personal information and advice that veteran, local beekeepers can offer. Few "how to" books consider the specific area conditions and challenges that beekeeping in parts of the Deep South present.
Veteran beekeepers can help beginners get started and have a much higher chance of their bee hives surviving and producing surplus honey. They can give advice on how to purchase bees and the advantages and disadvantages of purchasing options. Some novice beekeepers start with little cost by catching swarming bees. How to catch swarms or to remove an existing hive of bees from a tree can be easy or difficult depending on the actual situation.
Interest in beekeeping and attendance in local clubs often peaks in springtime. Basic clothing, equipment, and supplies for beekeeping are just some of the many questions that beginners can have. There's almost always some time at monthly beekeepers’ meetings for beginners to ask veterans specific questions that they currently have.
The Louisiana Beekeepers Association holds an annual convention in early December each year with many beekeeping topics and presentations. The LBA also co-sponsors an October field day on a Saturday each year at the Baton Rouge Honey Bee Research Lab at which demonstrations and advice are given.
The official web site for the Louisiana Beekeepers Association, www.labeekeepers.org, offers contact information for a local club meeting fairly near any Louisiana resident, as well as information on the LBA's mission and many activities. If you have questions about possibly becoming a hobbyist beekeeper, there’s a listing on this site for the LBA officers and board members. The LBA also has a Facebook page. We’ll try to answer any of your questions or at least point you in the right direction.