Hobby leads to Paradis Apiary, Vinton’s only official beekeepers

Mark Paradis and daughter McKenna have established Paradis Apiary in Vinton

Mark Paradis of Vinton keeps honeybees in his backyard as a hobby–currently the only authorized beekeeper in the town.  His wish is for Vinton to adopt the motto: “The Town of Vinton is a Bee friendly town,” and for more residents to take up the hobby in order to save the bees.

New Paradis Apiary logo.

“There has been a steady decline in honeybees for many years,” Paradis notes.

He established Paradis Apiary this past February. He began researching beekeeping in Vinton in 2018, inquired with the town about regulations, and obtained a permit. He bought his first hive, painted it, and got his first bees from a friend. He now has three hives with plans to keep expanding.

Paradis Apiary started with one hive in February 2019 and has now expanded to three hives and an estimated 100,000 bees.

His bees are local, coming from Bedford. Paradis says local bees are best as they don’t have to adjust to a new environment. He started out with about 10,000 bees; now they probably have about 100,000.

His interest in bees came from his daughter, McKenna, who “got him into it.”

Now a freshman at William Byrd, she was one of the original members of the William Byrd Middle School Beekeeper’s Club which got its start in September 2017 after teacher-librarian Heather Balsley became intrigued with bees after attending a meeting at the Roanoke Co-op.

She got in touch with the Blue Ridge Beekeeping Association, which led to establishing the school club which meets twice a month. Their slogan is “Save the Bees, please.”

The Paradis’s recently rescued honeybees from a home in the Roanoke area.

Formation of the club led to the installation of hives on the middle and high school campus in April 2018. Thousands of bees were delivered from Georgia–20,000 European honeybees (the most common type of bee)—one queen bee, 500-1,000 male drones, and the rest female worker bees.

Hives house a queen who is the only female in the hive who can reproduce—that is her only function; she mates with drones from other hives and lays eggs—a couple of thousand a day, which mature into worker bees. Paradis says the queen is the key to the success of the hive: “Happy queen, happy colony.”

Worker bees fill a host of exhausting roles 24 hours a day as nurses, housekeepers, caretakers of the queen, HVAC specialists who flap their wings continually to cool or warm the queen (up to 11,000 times per minute which causes the buzzing sound), security guards, graveyard bees who remove dead bees from the hive, and foragers and pollinators who go out and bring back pollen.

Pollination is the primary function of the bee. Honey is the by-product of beekeeping. Bees pollinate more than 100 crops in the United States.

Club members and Paradis are all vocal bee advocates, determined to rescue bees endangered by severe weather and negative human effects on the environment. Many hives in Virginia have died in recent years due to both severe weather and Colony Collapse Disorder, thought to be caused by pesticides commonly used in the United States and other parts of the world, but banned in much of Europe.

“It’s hard to raise bees with so many toxins in the environment,” Paradis said.

The Beekeeping Club led to a change in Vinton Town Code. They researched the section dealing with beekeeping regulations and made an impressive presentation to Town Council in September suggesting changes that needed to be made. Council enacted changes to the code on October 1 related to distances from property lines, number of hives permitted, and providing adequate access to water.

Paradis says bees generally stay within a three to five-mile radius of their hive.

Vinton’s Principal Planner, Nathan McClung, says that currently the town doesn’t charge for beekeeping permits “in order to promote the protection of pollinators in Vinton.” The town does send out an officer to make sure regulations are met in setting up the hives.

The Paradis family has lived in Vinton for 20 years and owns about 1.7 acres of partially wooded land. Beehives do best in full sun, so they have placed them to receive the most sunlight possible.

They have made changes to their property to accommodate the bees. Although they live close to streams in Vinton, they also have a fish and frog pond in their yard and feed their bees sugar water. They try to plant flowers and other plants that are attractive to bees.

Individuals who try to eradicate dandelions from their yards should realize that dandelions and clover are two bee favorites. Dandelions are 36 percent sugar—the highest concentration in spring flowers.

The Paradis’s give their bees lots of attention. Maintenance is necessary at least once a month, with more attention needed at certain times of year.

Paradis says their bees have gotten to know them and are “really tame. They get familiar with you and your scent. Frequent contact helps.” Paradis works for Cargill in Vinton and says that co-workers comment on how he attracts bees even at work.

“There are lots of critters trying to kill bees who want their honey,” said Paradis. ‘It’s a fight to keep bees alive but we love doing it.” He names a variety of mites and beetles that must be battled.

Paradis assists the Beekeeping Club at William Byrd and is also a member of the Blue Ridge Beekeepers Club, set to become president in January. He is hoping to help them educate the public on the benefits of bees.

“I hope I can encourage others to keep bees in Vinton,” said Paradis. “I’ll even help them get started through the Blue Ridge Beekeepers.”

Mark and McKenna Paradis recently received some free bees—although it wasn’t exactly easy to get them.

Heather Balsley called Paradis to say that an older lady had a really large nest of bees on a tree beside her house.

“I called and asked for more information,” said Paradis. “All she could tell me was that it was large, and she didn’t know what they were. She asked me what I charge to remove them. I told her if they were hornets or any other non-honeybees, I would charge $50. I also told her if they were honeybees, I wouldn’t charge her a penny.”

“After work the same day, I went to scout them out,” he said. “I returned her call and told her they were honeybees and she wouldn’t be charged at all. Plus, I would remove them the same day.”

“When Mckenna got home from school, we went there to remove them, one layer of comb at a time in our frames for their new hive,” Paradis said. “We used rubber bands to keep the comb from falling out of the frames. A few days later she called and talked to my wife. She said she has never seen such great service from anyone as she got from us. Plus, the fact that we didn’t even make any money from it. But we think differently. We got free bees that were friendly just like ours.”

An “Introduction to Beekeeping” Class is being sponsored by the Blue Ridge/Botetourt Beekeepers Associations in February and March 2020, meeting for four hours for each class on four Saturdays at the Virginia DEQ office in Salem. Email rudytaylor1952@gmail.com for more information.

Paradis has a Facebook page filled with information and videos about all things honeybees and their “learning curve of being new beekeepers” at https://www.facebook.com/groups/529827181116568/?ref=share.

Keep your eye out for Paradis Apiary at town festivals—Paradis hopes to set up a booth at one of the town events to teach people about bees. He plans next year to sell honey from the Paradis Apiary on the Vinton Farmers’ Market. Their honey will be wild-flower honey, light in color, and if a recent tasting is any indication—absolutely delicious.