Wonder about keeping bees if you have kids? Will they get into trouble? Will the kids freak out about the bees? We asked beekeeper David Emmons about his experience with little ones around honey bees. Here’s what he had to say:
First and foremost tell us a bit about you? Where are you located, what’s the day job (assuming it’s not bees)?
I live in Tulsa Oklahoma, working full time as a registered nurse while going back to school for a second bachelor degree (this one in Microbiology, my first is in Nursing). I just hit 30 years old, with a wife of almost 7 years and two children, one child is 4 years old and the other 3. My hobbies have varied over the years; from racing bikes on dirt tracks (not motocross, human powered bikes), martial arts, microscopy, role playing games (that one has endured the longest), most recently beekeeping. I am also getting started in cheese making and falconry.
When did you start keeping bees and why did you decide to keep bees?
I had an interest in beekeeping for several years, but only got my first hive a year ago. It started with just a casual interest, “You know, I’d kinda like to have a beehive when we move to the country.” I would say to my wife. I was having a bad year and my wife decided to buy me a book on beekeeping. It was somewhat basic, but it taught me that you don’t need to own a lot of land to keep bees. This was something of a surprise to me, and a pleasant one at that. I quickly got online and discovered the local beekeeping club, enrolled in a beginner beekeeper class, talked my brother-in-law into financing a second hive (turns out he was quite interested in beekeeping as well), and found Worldofbeekeeping.com. I threw myself into reading and studying, started attending the local club meetings, ordered my hive parts and 2 nucs, and went into apiaries with one of the ‘oldest’ beekeepers in the region. I mean that in both age and length of time, he is 80 years old and still has over 100 hives. He was a great mentor.
Beekeeping interested me because it is a complicated hobby, and one that pays for itself. Beekeeping is different from day to day, hive to hive. Honey harvests are different from frame to frame. Then there are all the things you can make with wax. Someone who collects stamps or coins has to look a long time to find something that surprises them. Beekeeping always changes, because the bees are changing, management techniques are changing, there is room for experimentation.
Did you have your children when you made the decision and if so how did that factor into your decision?
Having children did factor into it, and before my wife would let me get any hives I had to look into how kids are around bees. I even took them to one of the apiaries of one of the other local beekeepers to see how they would react. Samuel, my youngest (the one in the photo), was so interested in the bees he made the owner of the apiary very nervous. Once I determined my boys weren’t scared and confirmed, for my wife, that bees really only sting the person tearing apart their hive, she consented to letting me get some beehives.
Did you have any concerns about keeping bees with your kids around?
I had a few concerns, mostly about if my children were allergic to the stings. Ironically, my children were stung 4 times (between both of them), and only once was when near my hives. I say ‘my hives’, but one is owned by my brother in law. It seems that children are more likely to be stung by walking bear-foot in a yard than by a bee flying by the hive! Samuel is to the point that he get stung, he runs over to get the stinger out, while crying. We get the stinger out, he runs back out like nothing happened!
Have their been any issues having hives in your yard?
With my neighbors? There is actually a large beekeeping community where I live, where my hives are kept there are at least 2 other beekeepers in a block radius. In fact, we have caught two swarms off their hives! I can say I am a bit blessed with beekeeping in my area.
With my kids? Naw, they are interested in bees, but I have taught them where to sit that is safe, and sometimes Samuel (again) will plop down and watch the bees buzz by his head. I was working a hive when he did this once and I had a hard time controlling my laughter when he said, “These bees are very friendly.” Dropping the frame I was holding because I was laughing would have made that statement false really fast. Most of the time the kids keep a safe distance naturally. What we recognize as the ‘healthy hum’ of a hive can seem a little frightening to a young child, their ears are just sensitive enough that they start hearing the hum when they get near the zone around a hive that bees start getting protective. It is an interesting balance.
What should people know about having little ones around beehives?
Kids are naturally curious and, especially boys, love bugs. They pick up a lot of their cues on how to react based on the parent. For the first half of last year I didn’t wear anything but a hat, to keep the bees out of my hair, while working the hives. I was calm, my kids were calm. Though, they thought it was funny when a bee got caught in my hair and I darted away from the hive desperately trying to get the bee out before it found my scalp. When they got stung we calmly removed the stinger, we didn’t panic or react with a great deal of urgency, we didn’t ignore it either. There were a lot of ‘see, we are all done! You did such a good job holding still!’ and all the sorts of praises you give a child like that. Yes, the sting hurts, but the parental reaction of ‘all better!’ works wonders on kids. If they wanted we put a band-aid with neosporin on it, because that is what makes all boo-boos better. The biggest hurdle was teaching the kids not to wave their hand wildly when a bee landed on it. Once they learn that the bee just wants to crawl on them to see if they are a flower or not, at least my kids, learned that there was nothing to fear and that bees only sting if they are scared and wouldn’t you be scared if you landed on a giant’s hand and they started waving their hand?
Anything else you’d like us to know about your experiences as a beekeeping parent?
Kids make great assistants, once they learn how to look for a queen they are far better at it than any adult, because their brains are wired just a little different. You can be amazed how good a child is at those ‘hidden puzzle’ pictures if you just give little hints until they are doing it all on their own. A small amount of the fear of bees is instinctual, but a much larger part of it is learned from society. If you never teach your child to be scared of bees they won’t ever be more scared of bees than anything else new. Some kids don’t like anything new, not because the object itself is scary, it is because the unknown is scary. If your child is scared of getting close to the bees, there is nothing wrong with that, start by having them sit outside 20 feet from your hives while you work it. Slowly, over time, they will become familiar with the bees. Young kids love mimicking their parents, once you get over the ‘unfamiliarity’ of the situation, they usually want to get closer to the parent while working with the bees. Teaching your kids a healthy respect for bees can seem challenging, the key to it all is, again, your reaction and your response.
Samuel was watching some bees play on some clover and decided it would be a fantastic idea to poke them. He yelled, ‘Bee!’ and slapped it and the clover it was on. Fortunately the bee took it in stride and buzzed off, but there were plenty more for my son to playfully swat. I could have responded with a ‘NO!’ and run over, picking him up and telling him how dangerous it was. Instead I walked over, picked him up, and sat down where he was sitting, putting him in my lap. In the end he was less than 6 inches from where he was. I pointed at the bees and talked to him about how they are just looking for honey in the flowers. He said, “yeah.” ((interestingly he thinks the only appropriate use for honey is on pancakes)). I asked him if it was nice to hit them like that, how would he feel if someone bopped you while you were playing on a flower. “Sad”. ‘Yes, very sad,’ was my response. I reminded him that sad bees might sting him because they would be scared. So, it is OK to watch bees, even get close to watch them, but don’t do anything to make bees sad. I have not had any problems with him trying to swat bees on flowers. He does love watching them.
Maybe the trick to beekeeping with kids is to be blessed with amazing kids?
Do you have kids and bees? Let us know about your experiences here!