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Rowan County Beekeepers celebrate with field day event

By David Freeze

For the Salisbury Post

An apiary field day, following the completion of a beekeepers school provided by the Rowan County Beekeepers Association, was held on Randy Elium’s Lake Road farm Saturday. An apiary is defined as a place where hives of honeybees are kept. Elium’s farm fit that bill and made the perfect field day location. The purpose of the field day was to give those who completed the school a chance to practice some of the things they learned in the classes. Those participants and their families were joined by the beekeepers association members and their families for the day.

The bee school met for nine weeks and was taught by Bob Blackwelder and Bryan Fisher, both master beekeepers. Some of the morning’s activities included how to inspect hives and proper handling of hive frames.

The RCBA was organized in the 1960s and continues today with about 70 members whose objectives are to train and encourage beekeepers in better methods, to promote cooperation and sharing, and reach a common understanding of problems and solutions of beekeeping. They also strive to promote beekeeping improvements and general public awareness about the benefits and necessity of honey bees and the beekeeping industry.

RCBA President Randy Cox pointed out that his group is a part of the NC State Beekeepers Association, now with 72 local chapters and over 4,000 members, the most of any state. Cox said, “Our membership is growing and we are proud of that. We also have a yearly plan to get involved with youth. There are several initiatives that we are very proud of.”

A youth apprentice beekeeper program is planned. Applications will be taken from youth, ages 10-14. Cox said, “We want to inform the public of the importance of beekeeping. We will go out to schools and home schools to spread the word.” The successful candidate will receive bees, hives, training and mentorship through the two-year program. Cox added, “They get everything they need to get started and we help them along the way. Farm Bureau has joined with RCBA to sponsor this program. Interviews will start in July and August.”

Additionally RCBA members, working with Cooperative Extension and 4-H, will take an observation hive to the classrooms of first, fourth and eighth graders in Rowan County schools. This is a pilot program to teach the importance of beekeepers.

Finally, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture has chosen 19 research locations, including Rowan’s Piedmont Research station, for a pollinator program. RCBA will partner with manager Joe Hampton to explore the best nectar producing plants for this area in hopes of benefiting farmers and other landowners. Youth will help study best plants for pollination during certain times of the year. RCBA also has an initiative to develop a pollinator tree demonstration area at Sloan Park.

Cox added that CCD, or Colony Collapse Disease, was an important subject for beekeepers currently. He said, “We often see a 30 percent loss of bees. Reasons include pests and disease, or a lack of general nutrition. We need to establish a proper habitat for year round nutrition. Bees contribute to about 30 percent of all food, or nearly one in every three bites.”

In 2012, North Carolina established a certified honey standard, one of the first in the country. The USDA found that 75 percent of all honey did not have a detectable source. The pollen had been filtered out and much of the honey had corn syrup added. The USDA found also that local honey was 100 percent pure with local pollens intact. The benefit of the local pollens in the honey allow for a gradual building of the immune system, reducing allergies through-low level exposure to those pollens.

Another exciting benefit of honey is its remarkable healing power when applied to extensive wounds. RCBA has at least five local doctors as members. According to Dr. Rachel Ross, honey is currently being used at Novant Health by Dr. Gerald Cochran to promote healing. Dr. Chris Nagy, orthopedic surgeon at the W.G. “Bill’ Hefner VA Medical Center, is a longtime advocate of wound healing with honey. Dr. Nagy said, “Honey is one of Mother Nature’s medicines. I have seen it save amputations. Bacteria cannot live in honey. Manuka honey has long been thought of as a wound dressing, but local pure honey works well too. Enzymes in honey also clean the wound.

Beekeepers generally fall into four classes locally. Beginning with a level of Certified Beekeeper, greater levels of experience and competence allow for higher levels titled Journeyman Beekeeper, then on to Master Beekeeper and Master Craftsman Beekeeper. There are no commercial beekeepers in Rowan County. Commercial beekeepers often fill trailer loads of hives and truck them around the country to increase pollination.

RCBA Vice President and longtime honey producer Denny Booe explained more about his desire to see additional successful beekeepers. He said, “Lots of our members are getting older and the youth initiatives will help us have beekeepers in the future. Winters are hard on bees and our losses have been rising. People want to be healthier now and honey can help them do it.”

Another experienced beekeeper, Marcel Renn, echoed some of the same thoughts. He said, “We don’t need one beekeeper with 1,000 hives, we need lots of smaller ones. Twenty years ago, we had an accepted loss of about 5 percent of the bees and now it is up to 30 percent. I think it is better to spread the risk over lots of smaller beekeepers than a few large ones.” Renn described how it takes lots of healthy bees to form a cluster that provides heat by friction during the winter. Bees are at risk when the temperatures fall below 50 degrees.

Both Renn and Booe, called “sideliners” because their hobby is not a full time job, agreed that many people have the wrong idea about beekeepers. Booe said, “There is always something to do, lots of work. I wanted bees from the time I left home in the ’70s and I have had them now for 38 years. It is possible to get started with a three-pound package that includes a queen. Or they can go a little bigger by purchasing a nook that consists of five frames of bees, including the queen and pollen. But weather and disease can play big parts in successful beekeeping.”

Renn added, “We need more beekeepers. About 80 people attended our school. It is hard to accept the 30 percent loss rate and that often the beekeeper might be at fault.”

Still, the rewards are many. Booe and Renn both mentioned the calming effects of working with bees. Booe said, “This is my stress relief. I can come in from work and be really upset about something. Just being with my bees is good for me and I always Iook forward to that time. People don’t know that bees sense our moods and are more likely to sting if they sense irritability.”

Cooperative Extension Agent Danielle Cutting attended the Field Day. She said, “We need a new generation to keep this vital practice going. When I work in the school gardens, kids are often petrified of bees even though they shouldn’t be. If we make it fun for the kids, they will want to be involved. Today’s field day activities were a good example of that.”

Cutting also advised that we should not to be frightened of swarms of bees. She added, “Call our office and one of our beekeepers will come out and handle the situation. Save our bees.”

Gigi Agner, aged 10, attended the field day activities with her dad. She plans to apply for the Youth Apprentice Beekeeper Program. Gigi smiled when she said, “I might just end up with 25,000 more pets!”

For more information about the Rowan County Beekeeper’s Association, contact President Randy Cox at 704-642-1069.

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