Published Dec. 5, 2017
Beekeeper Cheryl Burkhead’s fascination with the natural world began long before she was ever able to explain how a hive worked or harvest honey from her backyard. As a child, she found herself fascinated by the outdoors, insects and biology.
“I was the kid with the bug jar in the middle of the kitchen table,” she said. “I even did a paper in eighth grade on bees.”
As an adult, Burkhead funneled her passion for life sciences into a career in nursing.
“I decided to take my love for life sciences and become a nurse,” Burkhead said. “I could’ve easily ... and I probably should’ve, went into etymology. I actually thought about that when I was at K-State and I didn’t do that.”
After her childhood, Burkhead said she never focused on bees ever again, saying that life got in the way. After her two sons grew up and moved out, she revisited the idea.
“I was always a big gardener and I think probably the reason I got interested is I wasn’t seeing my pollinators out in my garden,” she said.
In 2014, Burkhead bought her first hive and began beekeeping. In her first year, she said she only planned on keeping one hive.
“I was going to have a cute little garden variety with the cute little copper roof,” she said. “I was going to have my own beehive just to pollinate my garden.”
Now, three years later, Burkhead has over 10 hives, including hives in her backyard at her home outside of Topeka and at Clinton Lake in Lawrence.
Around the time she bought her first bees, Burkhead said she was taking beekeeping classes to learn the basics. She advises all new beekeepers to enroll in classes.
“The more you know, the more you don’t know,” she said. “It just keeps opening up more questions. There’s so much to learn about bees to keep current.”
Burkhead attributes much of her knowledge to local and statewide beekeeping organizations, such as the Northeastern Kansas Beekeeping Association and the Kansas Honey Producers Association.
Fellow beekeeper and NEKBA member Robert Burns described Burkhead as a great student.
“She listens and she learns,” he said. “She’s educated in other respects, you know, being a nurse, and so she knows about life things.”
Local beekeeping organizations like these have been around for many years, providing beekeepers with more than just classes. They also offer support and advice, as well as financial guidance for beekeeping. NEKBA began in 1948 and KHPA began in 1903.
As of the summer of 2017, Burns, who is also the treasurer for both organizations, estimates that there are about 560 members in NEKBA.
For Burkhead and Burns, beekeeping has become a therapeutic activity for them.
“It’s one of those jobs where you do it by yourself. It’s getting out in nature. You have to pay attention to the weather, the times of year, the seasons,” Burns said. “It teaches you a lot of things like patience. You have to go slow when you’re working with the bess. It’ll teach you about pain. Bee stings hurt.”