By Debbie Adams
“To Be or Not Be a Beekeeper” was the question about 25 attendees came to the Vinton Library to answer on January 11 at a highly informative session presented by Virginia Certified Master Beekeeper Robert Howard.
Beekeeping is a growing trend in suburban and urban areas. Vinton has an apiary— Paradis Apiary— recently established by Mark Paradis and his daughter McKenna. Howard introduced the Paradises to the audience, saying that Mark Paradis is taking over leadership of the Blue Ridge Beekeepers Association from him.
In 2017, a Beekeepers Club was organized at William Byrd Middle School, sponsored by librarian Heather Balsley, with McKenna as one of the original members. It has now expanded to the high school, with hives installed on the school campus.
Howard told participants that the purpose of the program on January 11 was to help them determine whether beekeeping was for a good choice for them before they made a significant investment of time, money, and effort.
The goal of Howard and the beekeeping organizations he belongs to is to help beginning beekeepers succeed. “We desperately need beekeepers” was his message.
He structured his talk around three topics:
- Why you should NOT keep bees?
- Of course, you should keep bees!
- What to expect if you take the plunge.
Considerations for not keeping bees include poor health, poor location, lack of free time, the considerable start-up expense, and commitment issues.
Individuals who have difficulty lifting heavy objects or are allergic to bees should think hard before taking up beekeeping. They should also note that beekeeping requires one to work outside in the dirt, grass, and dust and sometimes extreme heat, and most importantly that it is actually “work.”
Location is also a consideration if local laws are prohibitive, you don’t have adequate space, or you live near a pool, poisons, a kennel, or a high-density area. Another important point to consider, Howard said, is if you have “really mean neighbors.”
As for the time involved in beekeeping, which is more work than hobby, those interested in taking up beekeeping should take into account whether they are retired, have commitments that involve travel, care for disabled children or parents, or already have a host of hobbies. “Beekeeping takes time,” and it’s done according to the schedule of the bees and Mother Nature— like farming.
Continuing the commitment theme, Howard said that if a person already has “tons of hobbies,” tends to gravitate from hobby to hobby, or is planning to relocate in the near future— “beekeeping is not the best choice.”
He explained that often a beginner beekeeper will lose the first hive— if that will be too traumatic and cause one “to lose interest and to lose heart,” don’t become a beekeeper.
Howard emphasized that beekeeping requires a large financial investment in getting set up and underway. The initial cost in the first year could run around $1,000, since a beginner “owns nothing, and needs everything to start with.”
“You can’t buy bees at Walmart,” Howard said.
He seriously recommends anyone considering beekeeping take a class and find a mentor.
“Those will be dollars well spent and save you in the future,” he said.
He next moved on to “Why you should keep bees.”
You are helping the bees, who badly need your assistance. The United States doesn’t have enough bees to pollinate all its crops fully. The process of globalization has placed stress on bees. Bees are losing habitat and food resources as open space is increasingly taken over by concrete and asphalt. He spoke about pests such as the devastating Varroa mite.
Beekeeping promotes the “green lifestyle,” connects us with the earth and weather, reduces our carbon footprints, and “ties you in to what you are eating and where it comes from.”
He told the audience that growing your own honey is a good idea because honey is the third most adulterated food on the market, following olive oil and milk.
Honey is sweeter than cane sugar. It is regarded as a natural antibiotic with healing properties. Honey also makes a great gift for friends and family. Raising bees of your own will improve your gardening because of improved pollination.
Beekeepers can even earn some of their initial investment back by selling honey, selling bees, selling Queen Bees, making and selling bee equipment, mentoring and consulting other beekeepers, buying in bulk and reselling, and doing preform cut-outs of bees plaguing property owners.
He then moved on to “what to expect if you take the plunge into beekeeping.” He again urged those present who were interested to take a beekeeping class. “Introduction to Beekeeping” is being offered beginning in February in Salem— 18 total hours of instruction meeting every other Saturday for four hours in February and March (from 1 to 5 p.m.).
The class will be meeting at the Virginia DEQ office at 901 Russell Drive. The cost of the class is $100 for those who register by January 25, and includes three textbooks.
The instructors for the class are members of the Blue Ridge (Roanoke City and County) and Botetourt Beekeepers Associations.
The class will cover the essential knowledge and skills necessary in the first year of beekeeping with guidance on what equipment to buy, where to purchase bees, how to install them, caring for the bees, preparing them to survive the winter, dealing with pests and diseases, and much more. The price of the class also includes membership in the Blue Ridge and Botetourt Beekeeper Associations.
Howard advised beginning beekeepers to not just take a class, but to educate themselves by joining a club, finding a mentor, reading as much as possible, going to conferences, and then taking classes to work toward apprentice, journeyman, and Master Beekeeper certification.
He went on to talk about a beekeepers calendar— April is the ideal month to get bees and get started— “Bees are almost bulletproof in April.”
Howard talked about the best ways to purchase bees— local bees are highly preferable, how many to buy, and who to purchase them from. Equipment needed and where to best purchase was another topic. He went into specifics of the costs of bees and equipment.
He advised attendees to check on laws and ordinances— federal, state, and local.
The William Byrd Beekeepers Club members took it upon themselves last fall, after extensive research, to make a presentation to Vinton Town Council on the need for the town to revise its beekeeping ordinance. Council was so impressed by their work that they voted to make changes to the ordinance related to distances from property lines, number of hives permitted, and providing adequate access to water.
Howard packed a great deal of information into a one-hour session, but at a leisurely pace, and took time to answer specific questions afterwards, which included threats to bees from local wildlife such as bears, skunks, and raccoons– and possible solutions.
If you didn’t make the Vinton program, it will be offered again on January 18 from 11 to noon at South County Library.
Sign up for the “Introduction to Beekeeping” class which begins in February by sending a check or money order to Blue Ridge Beekeepers Association, P.O. Box 3084, Roanoke, 24015, and include your name, address, phone number, and email address.
Email Coordinator Rudy Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or check out the Blue Ridge Beekeepers Association Facebook page.