Yes, I used to do it. And no, I didn't realize the damage I was doing when I did it.
Granted, I really DO a LOT of things out of generosity...probably TOO much.
And I'm not saying that there isn't some form of gratification or honor involved with giving selflessly.
But generally speaking you have to get, to have, and you have to have, to give.
And to be sure, I have found the beekeeping community to be some of the most generous and amazing people I have ever met!
I've had them generously help me from time to time with advice, discussion, and even projects outside of beekeeping.
For sure, we should ALL do what we can to help a fellow human in need. But there's a lot of confusion around that one little word. Need.
Do the bees NEED you to gather them up, put them in a box, and squeeze honey out of them? (Not that this is an apt description of beekeeping at all! :) )
Do new beekeepers NEED you to to help them for free? The beekeeping equipment, and the bees weren't free, right?
Occasionally, If I'm going to unbox and setup a new piece of equipment, or I know in advance I'm going to do a certain project that I think people might be interested in...ok. I'll put it on the ole event calendar and people can sign up...for free.
But it's not really for free, is it? They are paying, in a way, with their first impressions, and even suggestions, as I explore something new.
Maybe they are helping set up for something else that I'm charging for.
Or maybe they are coming to 'learn while doing' and are assisting me with a task in the ole apiaries.
Maybe they are able to barter or get me a discount, etc.
So yeah, I don't "do" a lot of "free" beekeeping services anymore.
How do I mean? And why shouldn't you?
Well, obviously, YOU do YOU, but here's MY reasoning behind MY position.
By providing services like this for free, you are saying your time, effort, knowledge, and expertise is worth NOTHING!
And there's no faster way to devalue your services than to offer them for free.
There's also no way to devalue OTHER's services faster, and at the same time GUARANTEE that you will burn out faster!
Look, I get it. Friends and family? Of course. Don't charge them, but at least LET THEM buy you lunch or something!
Notice I said "let them" instead of "make them"?
They will feel better for compensating you in some way, and you will feel better, if nothing else, having eaten, during what may already be a busy time of the year!
Everyone else? Yeah. You have to charge them, even if it is to ask for a donation (ahead of time).
This is the hard part for some people, like myself, that have a servant's heart, and naturally WANT to help.
I know what you are thinking though. What about swarms? What about helping others have healthier bees? What about mite bombs and SHB swarms?
While there are still a few things that I offer for free, I only do so, one on one, with people that are coming to ME, to help in MY bee yards, or who are going to be there for something I am ALREADY planning to do.
I even set the expectations of a donation PRIOR to going to get a swarm!
If it's ME doing it, or even if I'm busy and I farm it out to other beekeepers through my website or through local club lists...same thing.
I set the expectation of some kind of tip, or donation, of some sort, to compensate the beekeeper for their time and expense.
Why I don't get super excited for swarms anymore is another topic altogether, for another blog, on another day.
Ultimately, it boils down to this: if I have to leave MY house and go to THEIR house, there's got to be some kind of compensation.
Not only is there time, effort, equipment and other expenses involved, there are risks too. Especially when a ladder is needed!
I HAVE to charge SOMETHING...Otherwise THEY are not appreciative of MY time and effort...no matter how much they SAY they are.
And, they won't be able to appreciate or justify what YOU want to charge when YOU come to the same conclusion. :-)
There's a lot of difference in my internal dialogue between thinking someone is unappreciative and disrespectful after receiving free services and wishing I had charged more. At that point, if I'm dissatisfied with something or someone, it's at myself. And that does two things:
1. It makes me think critically in how I prioritize my time and activities
2. It frees the rest of humanity from the storm of negativity brewing in my mind when I wonder how people can be "that inconsiderate" etc. etc. etc.
I'd much rather get home with something in my pocket and wish I'd have asked for more than get home with empty pockets and think badly of others (and myself).
Not that it STAYS in my pocket for long, right? If not "needed" for the kids, for the family, etc. it goes toward's the ole bee farm.
Remember, you're not just taking time away from yourself, and you're bees, but from family, friends, and other business...or basically...everyone else that does or WOULD value your time and efforts to help!
To that point, I have yet to receive a holiday greeting card or a dinner invitation from anyone I've ever gone and helped, collected a swarm for, etc. for...free.
What about the free bees?
Again, subject for another day, but more often than not, the free bees that are collected are disease riddled, pest infested, burned out, weak, poor quality, bees. I end up spending a LOT of time quarantining them, treating them, re-queening them, and ultimately, in some cases, combining or losing them altogether!
(Maybe that summed it up after all and no need for a separate blog post!)
Yes, I try to rescue them (after all, my company is called BeeResQ.com for a reason!) but helping the bees, and helping the beekeepers sometimes dictates the prioritization of my activities.
Sometimes, when it comes to rescuing/retrieving a swarm, it's just not worth the effort! Especially if I don't get some gas money at least!
I even started to charge in some cases for specific classes that I run AT my little educational apiary.
Why? Well, at a minimal charge it's CLEARLY not to get rich, lol.
Rather, and this is an important point, it is to keep people that don't value my time, expertise, and resources, from taking spots (and then not SHOWING UP) in one of my classes!
This is especially important when I have others who DO value my time, efforts, and expertise enough to commit (a few dollars at least) to coming out, and they can't get in.
Grrr...right? I see this happen all the time with "free" classes at nature centers, etc. You might get there and wonder why there are so many open seats. It may be simply that a lot of people signed up, since it was free, and then didn't show up. Meaning a lot of people that wanted to be there...who WOULD have been there...couldn't.
Also, when you consider that new beekeepers start (and stop) all of the time, with some of them quitting at the first sign of adversity, imagine how it feels to mentor someone (maybe a lot of someone's) and have them quit!
And, no matter how GOOD and STRONG your bees are, if not managed, cared for, and treated correctly, eventually, they WILL DIE.
And, nowadays, with everyone basically running their own broadcasting platform, the amount of poor, even damaging information out there, from vastly unqualified people, is devastating.
Imagine the time and effort that goes into some of the grossly inept methods of preparing bees for winter! How about the TERRIBLE advice to get bees and just 'let them bee'... Although I appreciate the use of the word "bee" and the intent of this, it simply does not and will not work, long term. At that point, my suggestion would be to "leave them bee" as in, don't put them in a box in your back yard at all. Leave them in the trees!
So, at the risk of sounding a little like a rant (think of it as an elaborate explanation), these are some of the reasons I don't offer (much more than conversation) for free anymore.