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When the COVID-19 pandemic kept most of us at home in 2020 and early 2021, some people took up baking, knitting or breadmaking as a hobby to pass the time and relieve stress. Pam Robinson decided she wanted to take up beekeeping. It started with the idea of finding a hobby that would get her outside and turned into a fascinating learning experience with a vibrant community.
Pro Bono director at the University of South School of Law for 32 years, active SC Bar volunteer, and recipient of numerous awards for her service to children and the disadvantaged in South Carolina, Robinson is no stranger to hard work and dedication.
With her go-getter spirit, Robinson jumped into the beekeeping process full force. Like any good attorney, she started with research by reading books and attending virtual meetings of the Mid-state Beekeepers Association. Though there is still much to learn, Robinson continues to be amazed by the organization, skills and ingenuity of bees.
She recently took time to reflect on her beekeeping journey.
Q: What inspired you to take up beekeeping?
A: In the back of my mind, it’s something that I’ve always been interested in doing. I was fascinated by the organization and structure and what I had read about it. I also knew that bees are threatened, and we need bees. So, when COVID came along, I thought that now is the time.
I started by joining the Mid-state Beekeepers Association. The first thing I learned is that beekeepers speak a whole different language. The first couple of meetings, all I did was write down words I didn’t know. I very quickly went online and ordered myself a couple of books and started reading those. That and attending the monthly meetings helped me learn more. And the more I learned, the more fascinated I found myself with things like the hive structure, how bees manage things, and how they’re micromanagers and specialized. I kept going to all of the meetings.
Finally, in January, we had a meeting where I got a bee suit with the veil and the whole thing, and we had a Saturday morning at the bee farm in Lexington, and I put on my bee suit, and I saw the thousands of bees, and I was fascinated. I spotted the queen right away, and I couldn’t suck up enough knowledge. In April, I got my first package of bees and got them all set up in their hive.
Q: How did you get your hives, and what was the experience like setting them up?
A: You start by buying all of the parts like smokers, frames and hive tools. We’re fortunate here in Columbia because there’s a place out in Blythewood, and they have all of the supplies. You can order all of this online, but I believe in buying locally, so I went out to Blythewood Bee Company to pick up my frames and equipment. The bees add to the frames, and the queen goes around laying eggs, and it’s fascinating to watch the bees do their jobs. They are busy. And when they’re busy, the hive actually hums.
Q: Did you consider this new hobby a way of practicing mental wellness?
A: Oh yes. I knew how to bake bread, and I already know how to knit. I’ve been doing it for years. But I wanted an outside activity and said, “I am not taking up running!” So, I decided I’ll take up beekeeping. It can be very peaceful to know that you’re raising something natural and good for the environment. I loved sitting outside and watching them all fly into the hive at night. It was nice to be outside in my yard and take care of the environment for a little bit.
Q: What was your favorite thing that you learned from your beekeeping experience?
A: This is nature, and you don’t always have control over what’s going to happen. Unfortunately, many of the bees in my hive flew off a few weeks ago, and many died. The beehive was doing great, and it was growing. My bee mentors were coming every week to help me inspect and make sure that everything looked good and set up right. And then they suddenly all died. Maybe they communicated with me about what’s wrong, and I didn’t see the signs. I cleaned it up and moved the hive to a new location. I’m a lawyer, I might not know about grey areas, and I might not know what caused this, but I’ve learned from the experience, and I know I’m going to try again. I’m looking forward to watching my new hive thrive and will hopefully reap the sweet rewards to start collecting my “Sweet Justice” honey.
Q: Do you have any tips for others who may want to take up beekeeping?
A: Join a beekeeping club. They are all over the state! Learn more about the bees and the process before you jump in. The community of beekeepers are such generous people with their time and expertise. They want you to succeed as a beekeeper. I think joining a club and going to see another hive is essential before you get started. Do not watch YouTube videos either. You can get some bad advice from beekeepers in other states if you’re not careful. What works for some people in other states may not work for you in South Carolina.
For more information about beekeeping and how to join a local association, visit https://scstatebeekeepers.com.
This article is part of the SC Bar ‘s “Summer Side Bar Series” highlighting some of our members and their interesting activities outside the practice of law.