By RONDA GREGORY
News & Journal Staff Writer
Beekeeping is rapidly becoming the bee’s knees. The popularity of this agricultural hobby is growing throughout West Virginia with more than 25 beekeeping clubs organized and active in promoting and supporting this vital skill.
The Mon County Beekeepers Association is one of these clubs and will present the 2016 Beekeepers Short Course for beginners or anyone interested in honeybees. The class is set for Saturday, April 9 at the Monongalia County/WVU Extension Service Office at 34 Commerce Drive, Suite 106, in the WestMon Plaza in Westover, Morgantown. The class runs from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“Beekeeping is fascinating,” exclaimed Debbie Martin, a member of the Mon County Beekeepers Association for four years. “The purpose of the class is to teach people to want to become beekeepers because bees are in decline and they need our help, obviously.”
She reports bee populations are in jeopardy because of a few situations, including varroa mites that carry viruses and colony collapse disorder.
Mark Becilla, course instructor and President of the Mon County club, states that the bee industry and researchers work diligently to eliminate these threats.
“There have been major advancements in treating the mites,” he said. “There is always something new coming out. Being in a bee club helps to stay on top of new treatments.”
Martin said she, her group and other beekeepers hope to see the knowledge of beekeeping handed down to the younger generations to keep those skills alive, so they welcome all age groups at this beginners class.
“Anybody, any age – even those 5 or 6 years old – can attend,” she said.
The class covers several basic beekeeping issues: why people should want to become beekeepers, how to obtain them, where you put the hives, how you handle the bees and lighting the smoker, how you open up the hive, safety and what equipment is needed, such as a bee veil.
“You’ll need equipment before you even get bees,” explains Becilla. “You’ll need protective clothing…at least the bee veil.”
But these items are not necessary for the beginners class.
While the class covers the basics, Becilla emphasized that beekeeping is a “hands-on” activity that requires field experience, which they will work in via outings.
Becilla recounts his interest toward becoming a beekeeper began when he was young in an indirect way.
“I’ve always liked and have been interested in insects,” he explained. “I collected them.”
He now keeps bees and sells his homegrown honey at the Farmers Market in Morgantown.
“I do it as a sideline,” said Becilla, who is a nurse. “And it’s not just about the beekeeping itself, it’s about the social aspect – selling the honey…you meet a lot of people that way.”
Martin says she became a beekeeper through her son who saw a swarm of honeybees clustered on a tree limb on his way home from school.
“They couldn’t fly because of the cold,” she explained, after her son took her to see them. “I thought, ‘wow’.”
Her father-in-law had kept bees in the past, so had the equipment necessary to move the bees. Then she and her son approached the property owners who wanted rid of the bees.
“We cut the branch,” she stated, “brought the bees home and have been keeping bees ever since.”
She said having bees on her own property has been a boost to her fruit tree production. “They didn’t produce well before, but now they do.”
She explained that honeybees are especially helpful in propagating fruit trees…and cucumbers.
Beekeeping is a necessary agricultural endeavor for pollinating crops, she said.
Getting honey is great, too. “If you have local, raw honey, it helps people regarding allergies. “If you eat a teaspoon of honey a day that helps inoculate you from what you’re allergic to,” Martin said.
Kind of sadly, a honey bee lives only six weeks and produces only that one teaspoon of honey in its whole lifetime, she stated.
Martin encourages people to attend the beginners class.
“I’m passionate, the club is passionate and that’s why we’re having the class – to get kids and other people as well passionate about beekeeping,” she emphasized.
Becilla encourages serious beekeepers to get a seasoned mentor. “Finding a mentor is very important,” he stated. “You’ll have questions all the time. And it’s helpful that they live close enough to you to be able to come and see your bees.”
Martin says there are about 1,200 known beekeepers in the state. “That’s probably underestimated,” she stated. “They should register with the state, because sometimes there is funding available to support beekeepers in the event bears attack the hives or other incidents. The money can help them build the colonies back up.”
She said there is no fee to register and no taxes to pay, so she encourages beekeepers to register. “Registering is a way for us to figure out how many beekeepers we have in the state.”
Fee for the class is $40 and includes a one-year membership in the local Mon County Beekeepers Association and the WV State Beekeeping Association. Also included is a book – “Homegrown Honeybees: An Absolute Beginners Guide.”Class size is limited, so organizers recommend registering early.
To register, contact the County Extension Office at (304) 291-7201, or Becilla at (304) 296-4158.