Veteran beekeeper Oscar Carlson of Onalaska says anyone planning to start keeping bees had better be prepared to get stung.
“That’s part of the game; you have to assume you’re going to get stung,” said Carlson. “I’d rather be stung by a bee than bit by a mosquito.”
Carlson and fellow beekeeping expert Robert Hoffman of rural Holmen are putting on a series of classes on beekeeping start in February for the sixth year running. Both beekeeping teachers have decades of experience; Hoffman has been raising bees since 1948 and Carlson, since 1972.
La Crosse City Council passed an ordinance allowing residents living within the city limits to have up to two beehives, meaning there may be more interest in Hoffman and Carlson’s classes this year, which include indoor and outdoor sessions. The indoor sessions are held at People’s Food Co-op in La Crosse, and for the first time this year the classes also are being offered online.
“People we get in our classes are interested in gardens and fruit trees and are interested in one or two colonies,” said Hoffman. “Some students just checked on whether they want to get into it. We do get quite a few women.”
The series of classes has seven sessions running from February to September. Class size will be limited to 30 students. Three classes are taught indoors and four will be outdoors at sites with hives.
Registration is now being accepted for online classes as well as face-to-face classes and can be completed by visiting lacrossebeekeepingclass.com. Description of each session is also posted on the website. The cost for the classes is $100/person.
The first session will be Feb. 3 beginning at 9 a.m., and will cover terms, equipment and other costs. Students will also learn about caring for the bees and their hives.
Carlson and Hoffman see beekeeping is an art that is more involved than just putting the bees into a hive. Raising bees has become more of a challenge in recent years due in part to colony collapse disorder.
While scientists aren’t exactly sure of the cause for the syndrome; some point to a number of environmental factors affecting the bees. Among those are the varroa mite and viruses, the stress of transporting the hives, the loss of food supply or a combination of factors.
Hoffman explained modern farming practices have reduced food sources for bees.
“Farming has changed,” said Hoffman. “When there was dairying and cows were on pastures, there was plenty of clover. Now, there aren’t as many dairies and the rest of the farmers are plowing up the pastures for corn and soybeans.”
According to the two beekeepers, orchard owners rely on bees to pollinate their fruit trees, but the blossoms provide a limited nectar source for the insects.
“Bees can’t get nectar from fruit trees,” said Hoffman. “Bees also have a preference in nectar source.”
Carlson related how cranberry farmers need to remove any nearby basswood trees because the bees prefer to visit the trees instead of the berry vines.
More information about the teachers and the courses can be obtained by using the contact page on the beekeeping class website.