I'm helping to make Austin Net-Zero by: helping people become beekeepers!
Meet our newest Net-Zero Hero, Dodie Stillman. Dodie is a certified Master Beekeeper who is passionate about honey bees and sharing her beekeeping knowledge. Dodie currently serves as the President of the Austin Area Beekeepers Association, where she teaches beginner and intermediate level beekeeping classes. We linked up with her at a recent meeting, where the beekeeping group was learning how to extract honey. The beekeepers were also encouraged to bring their own honey to the meeting so others could sample it.
We spoke with Dodie about how she got into beekeeping, what her toughest challenges have been, and what advice she has for other aspiring beekeepers. We’re also especially excited to share her story now since September is National Honey Month!
I have always been interested in honey bees, but it wasn’t until after I had my first bee colonies that I learned that both of my grandfathers were beekeepers. I guess it was in my blood!
I also wanted to do my part to help bees, since bee populations — both domesticated and wild — are falling. They are being threatened by habitat loss due to development, as well as disease and pests. Not only do honeybees pollinate some $587 million worth of crops every year in Texas, they also play a key role in pollinating wild plants. Without them, Texas might not have bluebonnets, foxgloves or columbines, all of which are pollinated by bees.
After my husband finally said I could add yet another thing to my long list of activities — mother of 2 wonderful young adults, working at Dell Technologies, active cyclist and jewelry artist — I looked for some local beekeeping classes to get started. Round Rock Honey had a class that included being able to put on a bee suit and watch up-close as someone opened an active bee colony, which was really exciting!
I also found the Austin Area Beekeeper Association and the Williamson County Area Beekeepers Association. I joined both clubs and started attending the monthly meetings even before I had bees. In one of the meetings, a presenter named Lance Wilson included his contact information on the last slide. I think I sent Lance a question a day for a month, and he became — and is still — a great mentor to me.
Later, I was in the inaugural class of the Texas Master Beekeeper Program put on by the Texas Apiary Inspection Service and Texas A&M University. I was one of the first seven Master Beekeepers in Texas! Going through the program taught me so much about honey bees and beekeeping. I continue to learn from books, websites, and attending seminars and conventions where I get to listen and learn from some of the greatest beekeepers in the country.
Getting stung multiple times at once! Only the female honey bee can sting, but she can only sting one time, and then she dies. It hurts double for me — the pain of the sting, and knowing that a honey bee felt threatened enough to give up her life by stinging me.
My husband is now my assistant beekeeper, and he’s the best!
Since learning beekeeping, I have come full circle and now teach classes at Round Rock Honey and Texas Honey Bee Farm. I also manage colonies for agricultural valuations for land owners. I’ve been able to make beekeeping my new career and I love helping people get started. Honey bees are so vital to our existence because of their specialized ability to pollinate our fruits and vegetables. While we need commercial beekeepers to continue to pollinate our crops, it’s going to be all the individuals that have only a couple of hives that will keep our honey bee population alive and growing strong!
First off, if your local laws and HOA allows, keep bees! You can start small like I did by taking some classes and joining a local beekeeping club. Once you’re ready, order your honey bees in November and December so they will arrive in April in time for the wildflowers that bloom all over Central Texas.
If you can’t keep bees, there are so many things you can do to help all pollinators! Dandelions are very beneficial, so try not to mow them. You can also plant a pollinator garden, or create a nice water supply (just remember that bees can’t swim, so place rocks or something that floats in the water). If you must use pesticides, please follow the label and only use them in the late evening when the honey bees are secure in their hives. Buy honey from local beekeepers to show your support. Shop at Farmers Markets and purchase organic fruits and vegetables to support organic farmers and avoid genetically modified crops. Finally, donations are always welcome at the Texas Beekeepers Association or the Texas Honey Bee Education Association. Lastly, there is about to be an awesome honey bee specialty license plate design in the near future — my car will have one!
>> The Austin Area Beekeepers Association meetings are free and open to the public. You can join them on the third Monday of each month at the Frickett Scout Center on I-35 and Parmer. On January 4, 2020, the group will hold its annual seminar at the Marriott North in Round Rock. The seminar is a great place to learn about honey bees and how to keep them!
To learn more about Austin's Net-Zero Goal, view the Community Climate Plan.
Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero (or heroes!) who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org.