South Charlotte

A honeybee hive could be close by

If it's local honey you seek, it might be closer than you think.

Charlotte residents and entrepreneurs Gerry and Libby Mack run Charlotte Local Honey. They harvest the honey from beehives in the backyard of their Myers Park home and at other properties within close driving distance that they own around central Charlotte.

They also raise bees to sell.

The couple started selling honey about three years ago, but they have been keeping honeybees longer than that. It all began when Gerry, 54, developed an interest in building hive boxes. Libby, 53, signed the couple up for a beekeeping class with the Mecklenburg County Beekeepers Association.

The beekeeping is a sideline for them, something they do mostly for their enjoyment because they love bees.

Libby calls beekeeping "a good apprentice activity," and she had some assistance from other beekeepers in learning how to establish a bee yard, called an "apiary." They also got information from books and online. North Carolina State University was valuable to them as a resource on the agricultural science of beekeeping.

Extracting and bottling honey can be time-consuming and hard work, toting heavy equipment from place to place during the hottest part of the year, they said. Their goal is that the honey they sell help pay to sustain the hobby they are so passionate about.

The Macks say beekeeping is seasonal. Winter is the down time while the bees are snug in the warmth of their hives. March through October are busier. Beekeepers must manage the bee population - monitoring the bees' health. Parasites and viruses are among the main threats to a healthy hive. And there are other chemicals and pathogens.

Beekeepers also must manage the size of the house. That may mean adding or taking away boxes. A single established colony may contain 30,000-60,000 bees.

A mysterious disorder known as "colony collapse" is a growing threat to beekeepers. It's more of a threat to large commercial hives than hives typically maintained by hobbyists, Libby said. Colony collapse is marked by rapid drops in the numbers of bees. The bees simply disappear and no one knows why.

Gerry said some specialized equipment is necessary for beekeeping. They wear a veil over their heads and other protective clothing. Smoker devices are used to distract and calm the bees once the hive is opened.

June is when a bee population peaks, and July is the height of the honey harvest.

The Macks want their operation to remain small for now. The sell honey and small quantities of beeswax, which some artisans use as a dry lubricant for thread in beading, quilting and sewing projects.

They say beekeeping can be a satisfying hobby for adults and children. But, they stress, appropriate adult supervision should be ensured.