Erik Brown, Director and Program Manager on Beekeeping

My grandfather was a beekeeper and I have always been fascinated with the idea. I came across a vendor selling a top bar hive at an arts & crafts fair in October 2014, and I realized that I really wanted to do this myself. I did a lot of research and took a class from our local beekeeping association in early 2015. I have been a beekeeper ever since.

My name is Erik Brown and I am a Director and Program Manager with Karsun Solutions, currently working on a program with the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

As a teenager, I fell in love with computers and turned that into a career. I enjoy technology solutions and delight in solving complex problems. More recently, I was looking for a new challenge and the opportunity to work with Karsun Solutions came along. Karsun has had some great success and is full of passionate, dedicated people that are fun to work with. I currently live in Virginia, which is a beautiful place and we enjoy every season from hot sun to deep snow. We also, of course, are near the U.S. Capital and there is a lot of history to enjoy in the area.

Outside of my job, I enjoy working in the yard and with my bees. I originally got my bees from a local queen breeder (Richland Bees) near me working with the USDA-led Russian Bee Breeders Association. His queens are specially bred to have a natural resistance to the main pests and diseases that affect honey bees. I purchased two small hives from him in 2015 — my current hives have evolved from these two hives.

My main teachers for beekeeping were book authors such as Les Crowder, Kim Flottum, and Thomas Seeley, or Internet writings from people like Randy Oliver and Michael Bush. As I became involved in our local club, it was local beekeepers, particularly Karla Eisen and Chris Hewitt.

The most important equipment for beekeeping is an actual beehive in which the bees live. A hive tool is also critical to pry frames and boxes apart, as the bees stick them together with a soft glue called propolis. Everything else is optional, though I consider a smoker and a bee suit a necessity for me. As with most hobbies, there are lots of specialized and novel equipment that you may want. Among these are equipment for feeding, queen rearing, honey bottling, candle making, and more.

The key work in maintaining beehives is regular inspections to make sure the bees are healthy, typically from once a week to once a month. Assessing the level of pests and availability of food stores is also important, and then deciding what action to take to rectify any problems discovered. Like ants and other social insects, honey bees are superorganisms and want to reproduce by swarming each year, typically in spring or summer. Most beekeepers also work to manage, prevent, or capture swarms from their hives.

Most regions harvest honey at set times during the year. In Virginia, this is typically done in early July. The combs are crushed or spun in an extractor and then strained and bottled to yield honey. Different flowers produce different honey flavours, so honey is sometimes harvested at specific times to capture the unique flavour of what is currently blooming.

Bees can be dangerous or aggressive depending on which part of the world they are located in. In South America and the southern United States, there are Africanized Bees, which are a cross between African and European bees. Africanized bees have a propensity to sting, so these bees can indeed be dangerous. In Virginia and other areas with an actual winter, beekeeping is not at all dangerous. Most of my bees are pretty gentle. You definitely get stung occasionally; that is part of beekeeping and it is possible to have an allergic reaction to honey bee stings, and like any allergy, this can be deadly. My bee stings are red with some occasional swelling, though you do get used to it.

Aside from the never-ending process of becoming a better beekeeper, the biology of honey bees is fascinating. For example, the workers in a hive are female, and they do the chores from cleaning cells to gathering nectar. The main purpose for males is to mate with other queens — in the late fall, the workers (females) kick out or kill the males since they are no longer needed. The workers cluster for warmth throughout the winter, and the queen lays eggs as spring approaches to be ready for the spring nectar.

Learning new aspects of the craft is my favourite part of beekeeping. This winter, for example, I made my first candles as Christmas gifts for family and friends. It was quite fun and a unique gift that everyone enjoyed.

I set new goals for myself every year with beekeeping. My goals for 2019 include better preparing my bees for winter and identifying five different types of native bees around my yard.

I definitely see similarities between beekeeping and my work in tech, especially around understanding the inner workings of the craft, whether it is the complexities of computer hardware architectures or the biology of a honey bee colony. Knowing the low-level behaviour of a system helps you understand how the larger system works. There is a lot of problem-solving in both environments as well. I wrote a LinkedIn article related to this: “Are leaders necessary? Lessons from the beehive” at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leaders-necessary-lessons-from-beehive-erik-brown/.

Beekeeping has been a great benefit to my technological career – it is certainly a good conversation starter when networking or interviewing. In beekeeping, there is a calm focus and methodical movement needed to successfully work bees, and that attitude and temperament really do benefit working with technology. It is also led me to new technology, including a blog at beeswitheeb.com and working on online registration for my local beekeeping club and a couple of national conferences.

Beekeeping is local. My advice to beginners looking to start up beekeeping is to get to know your local beekeepers, find your local beekeeping club, and start out doing what is successful in your area. The timing and methods that work in northern Europe will not work in the southern United States. There is plenty of time to try different or unique tools and methods once you are successful with the basics.

I think most passions are grown, not born. Sharing your experiences and supporting co-workers in their interests helps foster the next generation of passions. Many innovative ideas have grown out of a personal passion, of someone looking to improve how something works or get rid of an annoying problem.

 

Be sure to check out Erik’s blog, Bees with eeb, through the following link:

https://beeswitheeb.com/

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