When Caryn Hassell attended a farm event up north nearly 12 years ago, she fed a delicate honeybee a drop of amber-hued honey. It was a moment the Michigan native described as "magical."
Since then, Hassel has read books about bees and shadowed beekeepers. But her experience as a hobbyist beekeeper really began after she moved to New Orleans. Hassel collaborates with Southbound Gardens, a local urban farm, and hosts beekeeping workshops at Hollygrove Market & Farm.
During the workshops, Hassel discusses honeybee hive hierarchy, hive equipment and the installation process, and the city's beehive regulations. She hopes to correct some misconceptions about bees.
"Honeybees are gentle," she says. "The honeybees that you see in your neighborhood are out foraging, and so their goal is to bring food back home. If they're not next to their hive, they don't have anything to defend and they won't be aggressive."
She says most people who attend the workshops are curious about beekeeping as a potential hobby. The workshops are largely based on the attendees' questions, so each session varies.
Budding beekeepers also can visit the free monthly meetings hosted by the New Orleans Beekeepers, established by Darci Jones — a hobbyist beekeeper (and accountant) with two beehives. The group convenes every second Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. in the education building at the Audubon Zoo.
"We go over different aspects of beekeeping and have a question-and-answer session, where anyone who has a specific problem stands up and asks the group," Jones says. "Within the group, we have people who are very experienced. ... We'll figure out the best solution to their problem."
Jones' honeybees help pollinate flowers and vegetable gardens in her neighborhood and produce honey — a treat she shares with friends and family.
"Bees are fascinating creatures," Jones says. "The way they behave when you're studying them is just amazing. I can sit in my backyard and watch them come and go while I drink my coffee in the morning. I don't know how to explain it, but they calm me down."
Raising bees is a communal exercise. Beekeepers must purchase a protective suit and some other equipment, but Hassel says it's common to receive used equipment from fellow and former beekeepers.
"People age out of beekeeping," she says. "It becomes a hobby they no longer want to maintain."
She also notes that beekeeping "can be as DIY as you want." Many people build their own bee boxes.
Aside from equipment, beekeepers should review the city's beekeeping regulations, which determine what barriers should be set between the beehive and neighboring properties.
"You can't just put them in your front yard and have them fly across the sidewalk," Jones says. "[City ordinances require you] to regulate their flight pattern so that they don't run into anyone."
Hassel suggests starting with two beehives. If one hive is deficient in some way, you can revive it with the healthy one. But first, prospective beekeepers should do their research and network.
"Basically, if anyone wants to start beekeeping, they need to get a library card and read everything they can," Jones says. "Go to meetings and listen to everybody."