When Greg Clements was 10, he accompanied his grandfather into the woods of Owensboro, Ky., to hunt for wild beehives.
That experience left Clements, now 59, with a lifelong interest in honeybees and the dream of becoming a beekeeper.
It wasn't until his daughters, Alenna and Audrie, grew up and moved out that his wife, Margie, agreed it would be safe to keep bees on their Denver property. Clements, a patent attorney, had never felt bees presented a danger.
"People have the idea that bees bother you, but they really don't. They're too busy making honey to pay much attention to you, unless they feel threatened," Clements said.
He admits, nevertheless, there are some risks involved.
"I've been stung more times than I can count, but after a year or so of beekeeping, I've developed a kind of immunity and the stings don't hurt so much anymore."
Bee stings, he adds, might even prove to be beneficial. "People who are regularly stung by bees have a lower incidence of arthritis and cancer, according to the American Apitherapy Society," Clements said. In fact, "honey was used in the Civil War to inhibit infections from wounds," he said.
While living in South Charlotte in 1998, he saw an announcement for a beekeeping class, offered by the Mecklenburg County Beekeepers Club, and decided it was time to pursue his lifelong dream. The class was already full, however, so it wasn't until the following year that he took his first class.
The class met once a week for eight weeks at the Extension office. Students learned everything from the history of beekeeping to equipment, diseases, the calendar cycle and everything else necessary to become a beekeeper instead of a "bee-haver". "The difference between the two," said Clements, "is really very simple. If you open up your hives in the early spring and the bees are still alive, you're a beekeeper, not a bee-haver."
At the end of the class, Clements was a Certified Beekeeper. However, it wasn't until he and his wife moved to their current 2-acre property on Lake Norman off Unity Church Road in 2000 that he was able to buy hives and some equipment.
A complete hive, with about 25,000 to 30,000 bees, can cost $175. "The queen bee can lay her weight in eggs every day," Clements said, "so the bee population expands very rapidly. An established hive may contain 50- or 60-thousand bees.
"My wife was okay with the idea of me keeping bees, now that the girls were grown, but she was never interested in being a part of my hobby. At the end of a long day, she would help me clean up the mess, and she was happy to help me eat the honey I had collected."
Clements said in his first year, the bees made about four gallons of honey, but he left it in the hives to keep the bees fed.
With the success of his first year, Clements decided to move into the big leagues. He took more classes, progressing from Certified to Journeyman status, a process that took about three years.
"By then I was hooked, really hooked," he said. "After another two years, I became a Master Beekeeper."
As a public service, and to share his passion for beekeeping, Clements teaches at two bee schools: one in Lincolnton, with 45 students, and the other in Charlotte, with a group of 120. Students in the classes pay only for supplies, about $25.
As for his own efforts, he has gone from just two hives to as many as 10, but has now cut back to five. "I'm more efficient now in my beekeeping skills, so I can get more honey from each hive. I get 40 gallons of honey, almost 100 pounds, from each hive."
Clements collects about 500 pounds of honey around July 4 each year.
"I make cinnamon creamed honey out of 80 percent of it, and I sell most of it for $10 a pound at festivals and by word of mouth," he said.
As a Master Beekeeper and past president of the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association, Clements is a font of knowledge about honeybees, and he is happy to share his expertise. "Fructose in honey is a healthier sweetener than regular sugar. Every third bite you put in your mouth is made possible by a bee."
Clements said his neighbor have never complained about the bees bothering them. "Bees can cover a range of as much as three miles to gather nectar, but usually they don't need to go that far. They need a source of water nearby, preferably not your neighbor's swimming pool. My bees might travel half a mile," he said.
His daughters have started to show some interest in the beekeeping hobby. "They both took the Beekeeping 101 class offered at the Raleigh campus of North Carolina State University. They were vastly amused to learn that the male (drone) bee dies within minutes of mating."