Beekeeping hobby offers sweet reward
Tom Miller says beekeepers fall into two categories. “They either have bees right now or else they wish they had bees right now,” said the farmer and beekeeper who lives on Old Charles Town Road in Clarke County.
On Saturday, Beekeepers of the Northern Shenandoah gathered at Miller’s farm to show new members how to build hive boxes and extract honey.
For club president Randy Jackson of Frederick County, beekeeping is a “peaceful” hobby. It’s also an important one, because honeybees play an important role in pollination.
“It puts you in tune with the seasons because you’re paying attention to the weather because that affects the bees,” Jackson said. “It gets you more involved in nature, that’s a big thing. A lot of people enjoy that.”
Beekeepers of the Northern Shenandoah has 60 to 80 members and about 40 news ones.
Most club members have between two and 50 hives, and hives can have as many as 50,000 or 60,000 honeybees during peak times, Jackson said.
Hives can produce 40 to 60 pounds of honey each year, with good production year totals approaching 100 pounds, he added.
Joe Stambaugh, a Frederick County resident and club member, has been involved with beekeeping for about 40 years. Like Jackson, Stambaugh said beekeeping makes him more mindful of the environment.
“It’s a fabulous hobby,” Stambaugh said. “I never go anywhere without looking to see what’s in bloom around the county, because that’s important. Your bees, they have to forage, and so you’re all the time trying to say, ‘Ah, there’s a whole field of clover, I hope my bees get in it.’”
Miller started beekeeping about 25 or 30 years ago, then gave it up for a time and got back into the hobby a few years ago with Stambaugh’s encouragement.
“You’ve never met a beekeeper who was glad he wasn’t in beekeeping anymore,” Miller said.
He gave up beekeeping in the early 1990s after his hives were plagued by a series of diseases and setbacks.
“I lost all my hives twice and so I just quit,” Miller said. “...Now, the challenge and a lot of the focus is just trying to keep your hives alive. We have hive beetles and all these diseases we didn’t used to have.
“I think beekeeping is very, very important to agriculture and our way of life because they’re the chief pollinators in the world and so when bees are being devastated, we’re threatening our food supply.”
Courtney Walls, a freshman at Frederick County’s James Wood High School, was at Saturday’s event with her father, Kim Walls, who has been into beekeeping off and on for about 25 years.
“It’s really interesting and it seems really fun to get to see the other side of honey producing, the source,” Courtney Walls said. “It’s kind of a learning experience, just to be patient.”
Kim Walls said he got back into beekeeping when he heard about colony collapse disorder — a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear — and what that could mean for the environment.
Plus, he said, locally made honey tends to taste better.
“I seem to have more friends when it’s time to extract honey,” Kim Walls said jokingly.
Additional information on beekeeping is available online at valleybees.org.
— Contact Matt Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org