Beekeeping 101: Class offered for beginners

By: By Melonie McLaurin -
Courtesy photo A local bee keeper wears protective gear including a jacket, gloves and veil while handling part of his hive.

ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County Beekeepers will hold their annual Beginning Beekeeping Workshop from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 18 at the Richmond County Cooperative Extension.

David Auman, president of the local chapter, said it promises to be a great opportunity for newcomers to find out what the buzz is about.

“This is a short amount of time for someone to come and spend some time with us,” he said. “But we were all new beekeepers at one time or another. Over time, you forget what scared you when you started, and you have to back up and explain things a little better. We’ll have fun, we’ll feed everybody. And we will have live bees there again and go over basic beekeeping essentials. Our members will be doing this class.”

Paige Burns, assistant horticulture agent with the cooperative extension, said the beekeepers share their knowledge with newcomers each year.

“Every year, the Richmond County Beekeepers have a bee-keeping school,” she explained. “It kind of serves as a refresher course for experienced beekeepers and an introduction for people who want to learn to put together a hive, ways of controlling pests and making honey. Just every aspect of beekeeping.”

Auman said that while surrounding counties have their own beekeeping clubs, the Richmond County group has become a sort of hive of activity for them all.

“This workshop is for only half a day, so that’s not a lot of time,” he said. “Our intentions are to introduce people to beekeeping, let them see if that’s something they are interested in — and if it is, to encourage them to join the club. We have Richmond, Moore, Anson and Scotland counties. Each county has its own club, but they got involved in our club at some point and just kept on coming here, and we’re grateful for that.”

Auman added that what began as a group of only a few bee enthusiasts soon blossomed into a club.

“Our membership has grown,” he said. “We’re close to 40 members in Richmond County. I would guess that maybe one-third of those probably make honey and sell it. Some probably go to the farmer’s market.”

When Auman began making honey 17 years ago, he said he didn’t have a ready market for it.

He also said he has slowly become a believer in the health benefits of eating locally made honey.

“I started eating honey,” he said. “During hunting season my eyes had always watered and my nose was congested, but after I’d been eating honey for a while, it really improved. I wasn’t sure I believed it at first. But I think it might make a difference.”

Asked about some of the obvious and inevitable results of human interaction with bees, Auman said stings happen, but even those have been studied for medicinal benefits.

“When I started, I had nothing — no protective clothing, I didn’t even have a hive tool,” he recalled. “I’d get an occasional sting. But that’s helped me not to swell up as bad when I get stung. It’s helped me with my arthritis.

“I’ve been to a couple of workshops where they had people who’d been banged up in car accidents and had other injuries, and I asked them whether bee sting therapy helped them, and they said it had,” he continued. “The big fear with bees is being stung. When people say that, I tell them we have a member in the club who is allergic to bees. He has his own hives. But if you can tolerate a few stings each year, it’s beneficial. There are people who do that. The guy I saw was from California, but you can probably find someone closer than that who practices.”

But even Auman, after his share of bee stings, said he’s geared-up since his early days.

“I’m hoping that I’m just getting my therapies in the bee yard,” he said. “I do wear the jacket and the veil now. We have some people who don’t wear any protective clothing at all. Most of the time though, the bees are very gentle. We have beekeepers that never get stung during the year.”

Bees, he said, are also a marvel of design.

“There’s so many fascinating things about honey bees,” Auman said. “They really shouldn’t even be able to fly. They’re not engineered to fly. Most engineers would look at these bees and say, ‘No way.’ They’re little tankers, but their wings beat 11,400 times per minute. That’s more than humming birds.”

With the recent warm winter and increasingly humid days so early in the year, Auman said he’s worried cold temperatures could make a surprise rebound.

“I’m concerned about the things that are blooming early,” he said. “I’m afraid a late freeze will come through and kill everything, crops and bees.”

Often “on call” as a kind of bee rescue worker, Auman said when people notice what they believe to be honeybees on their property, they reach out to him.

“A lot of times people will call, mainly from Rockingham, saying they have honey bees, and they’ll ask me to come out and get them, or we’ll send someone to check,” he explained. “But a lot of times they end up being yellow jackets. And if they are bees, we’ll try to save them. We are getting more calls now, especially with the mites that are affecting the bees. People are more aware of the plight of the honey bees.”

The Varroa mites, he said, first plagued local bees in the 1980s.

“The bees around here took a big hit,” he recounted. “The Varrora mites came in and we lost most of our bees. That took out the wild honey bees and the bees in the honey bee yards. We didn’t know what it was. We just knew the bees were dying. Now, they are finding ways to make it easier to treat for the Varroa mites.”

To learn more about beekeeping and to register for the class, call 910-997-8255.

Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673.

Courtesy photo A local bee keeper wears protective gear including a jacket, gloves and veil while handling part of his hive. photo A local bee keeper wears protective gear including a jacket, gloves and veil while handling part of his hive.

By Melonie McLaurin