BUCKHANNON – There are many ‘bee’nificial benefits of having bees around: Bees help pollinate flowers, vegetables and fruits in the garden and bees produce honey for harvesting. Looking for another reason to delve into beekeeping? It helps with the dwindling number of bees.
Bees are found on every continent in the world with the exception of Antarctica, and their pollination is essential for many plants to reproduce.
Marcella Kelley, a member of the Upshur County Beekeepers Association, said she and her husband have been keeping bees for a number of years.
“A friend of ours keeps bees, and he told us we need to keep bees because we live on a farm,” Kelley said. “We raise a garden, and so we decided to get a couple of hives.”
Kelley said the first year they had bees, they all died, which is not unusual.
“They were not acclimated to our weather,” she said. “The next year, we got bees, and they survived and have bloomed on from there.”
She said they lost all of their bees again a couple years ago.
“It was because of bad weather,” she said. “Last year, we didn’t get our bees from the south – we got them from here and that helped. We have since split those hives and we are back up to 10 total hives. We are working at it.”
Kelley said keeping bees requires a lot of work.
“You must doctor them just like any animal, and you need to feed them,” she explained. “You need to plant stuff for them to eat.”
When the weather is like it has been – rain, rain, rain – Kelley said the precipitation washes awat the pollen, leaving the bees with nothing to make honey with.
“It has been mighty rough,” she said.
Kelley said to learn about keeping bees, she and her husband learned all they could from friends and read a lot of books about keeping bees.
“We also learn from the presenters at the Upshur County Beekeepers’ meetings,” Kelley said. “Tonight, the speaker is talking about diseases in bees. We have a training at just about every meeting, and they have been beginner classes. The fee to join the group is $6.”
Kelley said if there are no pollinators, crops don’t grow, which could lead to a food shortage.
“You have to have bees to grow food,” she said. “I also like eating honey – I had allergies but have not suffered for two years from eating honey. The pollinators are the main reason to keep bees.”
She said the best way to start is with no more than two hives because you are not guaranteed they will survive. She said most of the supplies needed for keeping bees come from a mail order group called Kelley Beekeeping Company in Clarkson, Kentucky. (Check out their website at www.kelleybees.com.)
Although honey is dependent on many different factors, Kelley said she gets about 52 pounds of honey from each hive, which is average for West Virginia hives.
In Upshur County, there are 100 families that keep bees, according to Robert Kincaid, past president and member of the Upshur County Beekeepers Association.
Kincaid said the acreage needed to keep bees in minimal – approximately 50 feet – but anyone who wants to try beekeeping should keep in mind that it takes time and energy.
“You must offset from your neighbor’s property by 50 feet, and the area where you have hives must be near to a source of water,” Kincaid said. “Creek, stream or pond is best. Keeping bees is time-consuming. You need to get into them at least every 10 days to make sure they are doing fine – seeing they are okay and have plenty of food.”
Folks first starting out will have an approximate investment ranging from $200 to $500 depending on what kind of bees and equipment they opt to purchase.
Kelley said those starting out keeping bees need to know there is lots of help available out there.
“We mentor people starting out who need help,” she said.
Kincaid said what prompted him to get into beekeeping was the fact that there are not many honeybees.
“I have fruit trees, and my trees went from having little knotty apples to having nice big apples after getting the bees,” Kincaid said.
Also, Kincaid said he enjoys the honey produced in his hives.
“Normally I will get 90 to 120 pints,” he said, “but the last three years, I haven’t gotten any honey because of the rain. I think our bee genome is getting weaker, and we are struggling to maintain our beehives and that has reduced the honey production.”
Kincaid said in a neighboring county, Randolph, Mr. Paul Poling maintains 2,000 hives.
“He sent his girls through college with those hives,” Kincaid said.
Honey tastes different through the seasons.
“In the spring, you will have a real blonde honey, and in the fall, the honey is darker,” Kincaid explained. “In the spring, the bees are working on apple and fruit trees and poplar, which makes a really light honey. In the fall, they are working on sumac and goldenrod and the honey is darker. The flavor of the honey is milder in the spring.”
He said he presently has five hives, and said three years ago, he lost nine out of his 10 hives.
“Last year, I didn’t lose any hives because I left an abundance of honey on them,” Kincaid said. “That is why I am skeptical of taking any of the honey from them.”
His advice for people just starting out in beekeeping?
“It is a time-consuming and expensive hobby, but it is worth the time and money,” he said. “In most areas, if you are around farming areas, bees do well because there is plenty to pollinate. In Upshur County, the people closer to town do better because town has more flowers and flowering trees.”
The Upshur County Beekeepers Association has approximately 40 members, and membership comes with the opportunity to learn from their speakers and network with other beekeeping enthusiasts. The group meets on the third Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the Farm Bureau Building in Buckhannon. Additional information about the group is available on Facebook or at www.wvbeekeepers.org.