The Kitchen Garden

Backyard Beekeeping

Buzzing around the basics

By Jan Leitschuh

Fancy a new hobby for the new year?

There is a sweet and time-honored pastime that goes hand-in-bee-glove with home gardening — apiculture. A beehive in the yard offers multiple benefits. Backyard beekeeping can plump your culinary garden’s quality and volume, with a delicious honey chaser.

Intrigued? Your timing is impeccable. Bee school is in session.

Beginning beekeeping basics will be explored Thursday nights in Vass, from Jan. 20 through Feb. 24. Taught by Erin McDermott-Terry of the North Carolina State University apiculture program, the course will help you get your hive up and running.

As a keeper of bees, you’d join the likes of such famous people as Sir Edmund Hillary, Sylvia Plath, Henry Fonda, Leo Tolstoy, Martha Stewart (of course!) and, er . . . Sherlock Holmes.

According to the Cornell University College of Agriculture, since 52 percent of United States homeowners describe their neighborhood as suburban (and only 27 percent identify as urban, with 21 percent as rural), new beekeepers are more likely to live in a suburban neighborhood. Since a typical hive only requires a few square feet, almost every backyard has more than enough space for a hive.

Home beekeeper Kim Geddes became interested after reading news reports of declining bees. “I read an announcement in the  paper about beginning beekeeping classes offered near my home, so I decided to enroll,” said Geddes, an engineer who lives just outside Pinehurst. “After taking the classes, I was eager to get started.”

Geddes fell hard for bees and has kept them in her backyard for three years now. “I love all kinds of animals, and I’m also committed to conservation endeavors, so beekeeping seemed like a good fit for my interests,” she said.

During her first year of beekeeping, she noticed her backyard kitchen garden becoming more productive due to the increased pollination. “It’s pretty common that home gardeners, when they get bees, notice a marked improvement in their produce,” said Calvin Terry Sr., of Midnight Bee Supply in Vass.

Honeybees forage flowers for two reasons: pollen for protein and nectar for carbohydrates. Veggies and fruits require pollination to set fruit. In cucumbers, for example, a female flower needs 8-12 pollinator visits in a single day to produce a decent fruit.

It was friendship and opportunity that led avid Southern Pines gardener Cameron Sadler into beekeeping. When friend and beekeeper Marcia Bryant sold her farm to move to Penick Village, she asked Sadler if she would like to house the productive-but-now-homeless hives at her place.

“I said I’d love to have the apiary at my farm if she would be willing to teach me,” said Sadler, who recently retired from Mondelez International and is also Master of Foxhounds with the Moore County Hounds. Besides Bryant and Sadler, neighboring friend Desiree MacSorley also works the apiary.

Sadler later bought her first nuc (a small core colony of bees) from Midnight Bee Supply in Vass. She enjoys the win-win of beekeeping and gardening. Her flowers helped produce sweet honey, and the bees increased the productivity of her veggie gardens.

“I grow a kitchen garden because I love to have really fresh produce, fruit and herbs to eat and cook with,” she said. “I absolutely believe my garden and my bees’ prosperity is due to the positive interaction of the bees with the plants.”

Sold on the idea of a bee yard in the kitchen garden but somewhat intimidated? Feel like you might need ongoing support? The local arm of the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association (NCSBA), the Moore County Beekeepers chapter, welcomes newcomers and meets monthly in Southern Pines on the second Tuesday of every month, according to Master Beekeeper Hugh Madison.

While backyard bees aren’t cuddly like livestock, their proponents can be ardent. “It’s hard to describe the attachment that a beekeeper forms with their bees,” said Geddes. “I felt a sense of pride seeing my girls work so hard in the garden that I provided to nourish them.

“I got into beekeeping because I wanted to address the decline in bee population,” she added. “I had failed to recognize the benefits that I would enjoy by raising bees — not just the sense of pride in addressing a conservation issue, but I was amazed to discover that my row crops produced almost double the yield.”

And the sweet finale for Geddes? “This past year, I bottled 40 pounds of honey!”  PS

Jan Leitschuh is a local gardener, avid eater of fresh produce and co-founder of Sandhills Farm to Table.

Resources: The Vass Bee School, Thursdays, Jan. 20-Feb. 24, $80/person or $140/couple. For more information visit midnightbeesupply.coursestorm.com.
For N.C. State’s online BEES courses and other counties bee schools, visit https://www.ncbeekeepers.org/calendar/courses-bee-schools.
The Moore County Beekeepers chapter holds meetings on the second Tuesday of every month at 6:45 p.m. at the John Boyd VFW Post on Page Street in Southern Pines. All are welcome. Visit the chapter’s Facebook page.

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