How to start beekeeping: four female beekeepers share their journey
Gisou is founded by and driven by women. Gisou's heritage stems from female influence which is passed on to the next generation. Take for example the Gisou bee colonies, where the female worker bees carry all the work and produce our hero ingredients, honey and propolis. We also take our inspiration from our community, and female beekeepers around the world, who are committed to learn, spread awareness and share their inspiring stories.
In honour of Women’s History Month, we spoke to four female beekeepers around the world, from the Netherlands to Utah. Read their stories and get inspired to support your local bees and beekeepers, or even start your own beekeeping journey!
How 4 Female Beekeepers Got Their Start
Location: Pratola Peligna, Abruzzo, Italy
Beekeeping since: 2011
Inspiration to start beekeeping: “I come from a second generation beekeeping family. My dad started beekeeping more than 40 years ago and passed on his knowledge to my brothers and I. Today, we run a family business together, Apicoltura Colle Salera, producing 19 different kinds of organic honey.
We have a nomadic approach to beekeeping: we move to different regions in Italy, from Puglia to Emilia Romagna. This way, we make the most of the blossoming season so that our bees have access to the best pollen and nectar.”
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Beekeeping since: 2012
Inspiration to start beekeeping: “Since I was a little girl, I have always loved insects. So naturally, I chose to study Entomology. The university I was studying at had the 10th largest bee collection in the world and I got hooked. I’m currently studying for my Master Beekeeper from Cornell University. I’m a honey collector, a teacher and a self-proclaimed honey sommelier!”
Location: Scheveningen, The Netherlands
Beekeeping since: 2019
Inspiration to start beekeeping: “Three years ago, I decided I wanted to do something that wasn’t just for me. I immediately thought about doing something with nature, since my dad - a fossil and shell collector - taught me a lot about nature from a young age. I followed a one-year beekeeping course and now I take care of four of my own bee colonies!”
Location: Central Florida, USA
Beekeeper since: 2018
Inspiration to start beekeeping: “I’ve always been fascinated by nature and insects. In college, I studied insect-borne diseases and fell in love with the complexities of entomology. After spending some time working in a lab, I knew I needed to be more hands-on with the creatures I loved, so I turned to beekeeping instead!”
What’s your favourite thing about beekeeping?
McKay: The energy! I can feel the bees’ energy and I know they can feel mine. I love to have the bees circle all around me. It’s a great reminder to be present, to bring a calm energy to them.
I also love that bees teach us new things every day. Science is in awe of the honey bee, and the medical world is discovering a lot of unexplored avenues with bee products. It’s exciting and makes me feel like I’m a part of something magical.
Cecilia: I love going to our apiary: the birds singing, the fresh and clean air, the sun kissing my face, listening to bees singing while laying on the ground. It’s always so moving.
Nina: The whole bee ecosystem is so perfect. It’s really beautiful to see how bees reflect our environment. For example, when I open the hive I can smell which flowers they’ve collected nectar from. Bees are also so inventive! They never cease to surprise me.
Hannah: Being able to witness the complexities of the hive firsthand, while being forced to be in the moment and temporarily forget all the other stressors of life and things on the to-do list.
Favourite fun fact about bees?
Nina: For one single jar of honey, bees fly the distance around the world. They put so much work into making the honey. Bees actually make way more honey than they can use - they make as much as they can store.
Hannah: That all the worker bees in a colony are female, it’s amazing what a large group of girls can create!
McKay: Recently I have rediscovered the collaborative energy of the bees and the signals they send to each other. Together they thrive — not one of them would be able to survive alone, not even the Queen. There are a lot of life lessons to learn there.
Cecilia: We can distinguish from bees how much they sing, when they are happy and when they cry, because we have a symbiotic relationship with them.
Challenges as a female beekeeper?
Cecilia: Beekeeping has always been considered as a man’s job, despite the bees’ system being matriarchal! Unfortunately, it can be hard for women to be accepted this wonderful world. For many people it is unthinkable that women could do this job.
McKay: I really haven't faced any challenges as a female. I did attempt to join the beekeeping club here in the city and found very quickly there was no one like me there, just a good handful of middle aged men!
Hannah: Beekeeping can be quite labor intensive, and there is often an incorrect assumption that we all have a man behind the scenes doing the heavy lifting. We must work harder to be taken seriously in the “bee world”, but thankfully, that seems to be changing as more of us share our stories!
A typical day as a beekeeper
Nina: It really depends on the season. In early spring, I make sure the queens are still alive and that they have enough food until spring really hits. When the season starts, I do a weekly check-up to make sure they don’t swarm, so I can split the colony on time. They need enough room to store pollen and honey - if the hive is too full, the queen leaves.
Cecilia: We usually go to our apiaries to check the bee colonies, to examine the queen and to see if they have enough food. During midsummer, hungry bears tend to come visit us, so we monitor our apiaries from a distance with a specific technology and intervene if something happens.
Hannah: No day as a beekeeper is “typical”, and that’s what I love the most! Depending on the time of year, a day of beekeeping can consist of inspecting the health of colonies, relocating swarms for the local community, harvesting honey, or editing photos and writing about bees for educational purposes.
McKay: As a beekeeper, there is no typical day. One day I am catching swarms or hosting a honey tasting class and the next day I’m working with kids. That is the beauty of it; I have created a life around my passions and I wake up every day with a new thing to try and learn. I am so wonderfully fulfilled with what I do as a beekeeper!
The beauty & health benefits of honey & propolis
McKay: We’ve only scratched the surface of the benefits of honey and propolis. Honey, beeswax, bee venom and propolis are unlike anything else you will find in this world. They dance together in such a beautiful way to keep the hive functioning, guarding it against predators and against disease.
We are constantly finding new ways everything from the hive can be implemented into the medical world as well as beauty!
Hannah: Both honey and propolis have amazing anti-microbial properties that can gently help skin conditions without any harsh side effects.
Cecilia: Honey and propolis have superlative beneficial properties! Propolis is by definition a natural antibiotic: it disinfects and anaesthetises. Honey is full of antioxidants and never goes bad. It also has many benefits for the respiratory tract.
Nina: I actually make my own lip balm with honey and beeswax. It’s like a super hydrating overnight treatment. I also use it to fixate my eyebrows. I use propolis drops for when I feel like I’m getting a cold, so more for medicinal use.
Advice for how to start beekeeping?
Hannah: Start with research! Read all you can, reach out to local beekeepers or even beekeepers on social media. Many areas have local beekeepers associations that are a wealth of knowledge and can help you get hands-on experience to build your confidence before bringing your own hive home.
Nina: Just try to find local beekeepers whom you can learn from. Beekeepers are so passionate about what they do so they’re always happy to talk. Just ask around!
Secondly, you can look for a local beekeeping club and do a course. If the courses are full you can always volunteer, there’s always help needed in the garden.
Lastly, you really need to be committed. It’s all-year around. For example, during spring you can’t really travel, so you need to make some sacrifices.
McKay: Learn to love bees. If you love your bees, you will naturally want to educate yourself on how to help them, you will do what is best to help them, and ultimately be successful. So love them, slow down and listen to them.
Cecilia: The advice I feel like giving is the following: read a lot and especially find a beekeeper in your area and offer your help. Direct experience on the field really makes the difference!
How do you educate people around you on the importance of bees & their welfare?
Hannah: The first step in my opinion is to get people to notice bees and realise that we are not separate from nature. Nature is all around us and relies on us for survival. Try to notice things around you, be curious and ask questions - this will lead to wanting to protect nature.
McKay: With the world being so uncertain at times, it can be hard for kids to stay grounded, be confident and form their own ideas. This is what beekeeping offers. The kids that come to my hives have a fire and passion in their eyes. They’re more courageous than some adults I know!
As for the adults, I try to teach them about bees and honey during my tasting sessions. This beautiful experience forces them to slow down and pay attention. I’ve discovered that most people know close to nothing about bees. If only they knew what they were missing, they would do a better job at trying to help the bees.
Cecilia: I welcome groups of people, both adults and children, to our apiary so that they can learn more about the bees’ ecosystem. People are often scared of bees, and I believe that direct experiences with bees are the best way to sensitise them and make them understand that nature should be treated with respect.
Nina: Bees are such magical insects, there’s so much to tell. When the bee season starts, I take my followers along through my Instagram Stories with everything I encounter. Everyone is super engaged! I let my followers pick the name for my queens, and they’ve come up with some really good ones: Regina George, Beeopatra, Bee Gees and of course Beyonce!
What are some small things anyone can do to help the bees thrive?
McKay: There is a lot you can do, but there’s one thing that is good for the bees, but also good for your soul.... plant flowers! It’s such a joy to get dirt under your fingernails and make the world a little more beautiful. Look up the native flowers in your area, they will be easier to take care of, and not only the bees, but all the surrounding insects and vegetation will thrive.
The second thing: stop spraying your garden with pesticides, pull your weeds and find alternatives for the pesticides you use. They are more harmful than you think and it can take years to get them out of the plants’ system. With a little more patience you will learn a lot and the pollinators will love you.
Nina: If you can, buy organic food which has not been sprayed with pesticides. People don’t realise that pesticides are bad for the bees. If a bee comes in contact with certain pesticides, and brings it back to the hive, the whole colony dies. 70% of the food we eat is dependent on pollination from insects. Without pollinators, we wouldn’t even have fruits and vegetables!
Hannah: The most important thing that we can all do to help bees thrive is planting diverse, native, nectar-rich flowers that provide sustenance and habitat for them. Habitat loss is the biggest threat facing our bees.
Cecilia: Always help and respect the bees. When you see a stunned bee, give her some honey or water as a refreshment. They won’t attack you and they’ll be super happy! Bees only sting if they feel attacked. Plant as many flowers as you can, try to pollute less and make respecting nature a lifestyle! Biodiversity must be protected.
Follow us through Bee Season ‘22 for more beekeeping stories and tips!
Thank you Cecilia, Hannah, Nina and McKay for sharing your beautiful stories with us! Make sure to give them a follow on Instagram to follow their unique beekeeping journeys.