A beekeeper is a person who keeps bees. The fine art of beekeeping has been detailed elsewhere, so I'll only discuss the human side of beekeeping: why people do this and what the requirements are.

Bees are kept for three basic economic reasons: to harvest the wax, to harvest the honey, and to use the bees to pollinate plants. The former two uses are quite old, and have been depicted in paintings that are over 13.000 years old. Note that this was millennia before the cow was domesticated. Honey is full of carbohydrates, and is an antibiotic. The wax can be used to make candles, and for waterproofing. Nowadays, the use of bees to pollinate plants is especially important. In a greenhouse there are generally no insects to pollinate plants so they produce fruit such as tomatoes. Bees can be used to pollinate the plants.

So, you want to start beekeeping, as a hobby, or maybe to earn a few extra dollars. Is this difficult? As far as I can tell, it's not too hard. There is a lot of free advice around, it is not physically taxing or particularly dangerous (unless you have an allergy), and it's not extremely expensive, either. A beekeeper would need at least the following tools:

  • Bees, including a queen
  • A hive. Modern hives have frames that allow honey to be removed without ruining the hive.
  • Protective clothing, in particular for the face
  • A Smoker. Smoke pacifies bees. Very important.
  • Time, it may cost more than 40 hours per year to care for a colony.
  • Space to keep them. Your neighbors may not like the idea of tons of bees flying around.
  • You may need a permit.
There are many more, more specialized tools for advanced beekeepers. Getting in touch with other beekeepers would be a good idea, as well.

As for the demographics, most beekeepers tend to be middle-aged or older, and I don't know any female beekeepers, nor have I found websites on beekeeping maintained by women; it appears to be a mostly-male thing. (You can \msg me if you know why this is). You can be a beekeeper until well in your sixties or even older.

Sources:

  • My grandpa used to be a beekeeper, so I remember a thing or two
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beekeeping
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestication
  • http://www.honey.com/
  • http://www.worldwidewounds.com/2001/november/Molan/honey-as-topical-agent.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beeswax
  • http://www.zeta.org.au/~anbrc/abol-009.html
  • http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/Beekeeping/
  • http://www.beemaster.com/honeybee/beehome.htm

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