Archived Story

Beekeeper class attracts ‘swarm’ of interest

Published 7:47pm Friday, February 28, 2014

It sounded more like shop class than a beginning beekeepers’ class Thursday night, with hammers tap-tapping away to assemble new apiaries, but it was hard to deny that Tallapoosa County is buzzing about bees.

Over the past few weeks, members of the beginner beekeeping class sponsored by the Tallapoosa County Extension Service have learned the basics of attracting bees, how to harvest the wax and honey and how to use smokers and protective shrouds to keep stings at a minimum.

Thursday night more than 50 class-members began assembling the boxes they hope colonies of honeybees will call home.

“I’ve never had a class with such an overwhelming response,” said Extension Coordinator Shane Harris, who’d expected around 20 folks to be interested. “But they literally swarmed us – to use a pun – and came out of the woodwork.”

There are myriad reasons to get into beekeeping, according to the class’s instructor Damon Wallace.

“It gets you outside to work with your hands,” said Wallace, who is president of the Alabama Beekeepers Association. “And they’re fascinating little creatures.”

There is evidence that apiculture — the art and science of keeping and harvesting bee colonies — dates back more than 15,000 years, with jars of harvested honey even found in the grave of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen and cave paintings showing humans raiding hives for honey.

But there’s a new buzz around the hobby in the Lake Martin area.

“Honey bees are very valuable from an agriculture and food standpoint,” Harris said. “Having these pollinators in your backyard and also reaping the benefits of the honey, it’s a good thing to be part of.”

Wallace said the class at the Dadeville Recreation Center is the biggest he’s seen in Alabama.

“It’s just phenomenal,” he said.

The “young beekeepers,” as Wallace called the enthusiasts of all ages, have myriad reasons for getting started in apiculture.

Sherry Ellison-Simpson, a member of the Alexander City Council, said she was hoping to revive a craft she remembers her grandfather loving. She has read that locally produced honey can help with allergy problems and wanted to give that a try.
Donna Jones and her husband are hoping to start a couple of colonies to help in the garden.

“We think it’ll help our garden flourish a little more to bring some more pollinators into the area,” Jones said.

Matthew Fagan keeps bees at Fagan Funny Farms in Equality. He started with a couple of colonies last year, but they moved on for drier pastures during a rainy July last summer.

“It seemed like a natural progression to help with pollination,” Fagan said. “But we use our more for the wax than the honey.”

The wax is used as an ingredient in goat’s-milk soaps that are sold at Catherine’s Market at Russell Crossroads.

In next week’s class, Wallace said, they’ll learn how to put on “the gear” of a beekeeper. Each student will get a shakedown of their equipment in a “virtual apiary,” to make sure the shroud and suit is worn properly so they can harvest their hives without being stung too many times.

But beestings, he said, “come with the business.”

“It’s like being a lifeguard; you’re going to get wet occasionally,” Wallace said.

The new beekeepers should get their first shipment of bees around the end of March, once they’ve learned all they need to know to handle them safely. But with around 20 established beekeepers in the area, they won’t be alone.

The overwhelming response to the class has led to the revival of the Tallapoosa River Beekeepers Association, Harris said, which has been dormant for around a decade. And the recent popularity of locally produced goods has given beekeepers new markets for their crafts.

The class has also led to the creation of an online community where beekeepers can share information and connect with other hobbyists at lakemartinbeekeepers.com.

To get in line for next year’s class, call the extension office at 256-825-1050.

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