A year ago, Bill Hunter says he had the “bright idea” that he could put a bee hive in the yard of his Mooresville home and “steal the honey.”
Hunter would quickly learn that crime doesn’t pay, at least not in the first couple years of beekeeping.
While bees making honey in the backyard may seem like a naturally occurring thing, Hunter quickly learned that humans play an important part in it, too. He’s learned some hard lessons in harvesting his first few dozen jars and believes he won’t turn a profit for another couple years.
Hunter is a member of the Iredell County Beekeepers Association, the local advocacy group to nearly 100 bee enthusiasts in and around Lake Norman. Part of its mission is to help turn novice beekeepers, like Hunter, into experts.
“It’s a lot more work than what I hoped,” said Hunter. “I was sort of naïve when I got into it. But there’s a whole lot more to it that the general public doesn’t understand. You have to take care of them almost like a pet.”
The association’s new president, David Little of Troutman, says that the towns around Lake Norman are ripe for raising honey bees because of the area’s ample vegetation and obvious access to water.
I want to give you every piece of information possible because I want your first experience with bees to be a good one. People may spend around $500 to get started. I don’t want them to be dead within a year.
The organization holds monthly meetings every third Thursday at the Iredell County Agricultural Extension Office in which informational presentations are made. Prior to being president, Little used to coordinate the educational programs.
“I want to give you every piece of information possible because I want your first experience with bees to be a good one,” said Little. “People may spend around $500 to get started. I don’t want them (the bees) to be dead within a year.”
The association offers separate beginner and intermediate classes in the fall.
Little started raising bees in 2005 and joined the association shortly after. He says the group’s attendance at meetings averaged around 25 members at the time and grew to around 35-40 as recently as four years ago.
Since then, Little says that attendance has nearly doubled. He feels interest has increased because of the general public’s interest in eating organic food and the association’s recruiting efforts at the Iredell County Fair, held in the late summer.
Garry Whitley of G & S Bee Farm in Albemarle recently outlined a set of guidelines for beekeepers to follow to protect their hives.
Whitley said the No. 1 threat to tending to bees is carelessly allowing them to swarm and relocate. Feeding the bees properly, pampering the hive’s queen, controlling the proper space in a hive, and understanding when a hive’s population should be split into different hives are also important aspects.
“I’ve probably done all those things at one time or another,” said Hunter, who maintains six hives outside his two-story house in a residential neighborhood.
The Iredell County Beekeepers Association offers separate beginner and intermediate classes in the fall.
Hunter is being mentored by Little, who along with other experienced beekeepers are eager to educate newcomers, including Mike Stephens who has seven hives on his property in east Mooresville.
Stephens has come to understand the importance of the spring season to honey production. Water access is important and a relatively dry spring this year has presented a challenge. Bees will generally fly up to 3 miles to find water and food.
“If you have a moist season, you have a good strong bloom of the plants,” said Stephens. “We’re 8-9 inches behind in rain for the season so far. So we may have a relatively weak honey flow.”
Doug King, who has raised bees at his Mooresville home near Lake Norman for four years, has learned how important it is to feed them (sugar water, for example) during the winter and how harmful common household pesticides can be.
“If I have to spray, I have to do it late in the afternoon when the bees tend not to be flying and foraging,” said King. “If you want to spray to kill some weeds you have to do it at about dark and with no wind.”
It may be hard work, but the returns can be sweet. Little attests that eating honey helps alleviate allergy symptoms, somewhat working as a natural immunization through the bees’ consumption of the nectar produced by the very plants some humans are allergic to.
Of course, beekeepers also enjoy how their honey tastes as a topping on foods or as a flavoring in drinks.
“You have a feeling of accomplishment when you get that first jar of honey,” said Little. “We tell (new beekeepers) that first jar of honey will be the best honey you’ve ever tasted in your life, because you had something to do with it.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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