DOBSON — Bees serve as pollinators for much of the world’s food supply, but have been hampered by drastic drops in their populations, a trend which average citizens can help reverse.
Tips for helping the bee population include not using harmful pesticides, planting bee-friendly flowers or becoming a beekeeper — and Surry Cooperative Extension officials and members of a local group are poised to help interested persons accomplish that latter step.
This will occur during the upcoming 2017 “bee school” for beginning beekeepers which will be held in Dobson. It is scheduled for Thursdays from Feb. 16 to March 23 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the downstairs meeting room of the Farm Bureau at 112 White St. in Dobson.
Reservations are now being taken by the Surry County Center of N.C. Cooperative Extension for the school that is sponsored by the Surry County Beekeepers Association. Class spots can be reserved at 336-401-8025.
The Surry County Bee School usually attracts a healthy turnout, according to Paul Madren of Mount Airy, director of the county beekeepers group and first vice president of the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association. He also is among a handful of master craftsman beekeepers in the state.
“We’re going to cut it off at 75, and last year we had a full house,” Madren said of class registration, which is dictated by the size of the meeting room.
The bee school is tailor-made for Surry County, which has a rich agriculture tradition.
“Most people like the fact that their gardens are pollinated and their fruit trees, and those are key things that need honeybees,” Madren said of the advantages of beekeeping.
“The one thing that really comes out of the class is that the bees take care of themselves,” the veteran beekeeper continued. But with parasites such as the Varroa Mite and pesticide use looming as constant threats to their population, the students learn how to mitigate such problems and tap into the proper guidance when needed.
There is a belief among agricultural experts that remedying issues facing bees are the responsibility of the general public and not just farmers. Maintaining a backyard hive can help sustain the population, they say.
The school in Dobson is designed to help newcomers get started in the craft, including sessions on:
• An introduction to beekeeping;
• The colony, organization and life cycle of the honeybee;
• Equipment needed to get started;
• How to assemble equipment;
• Seasonal hive management of colonies;
• Bee pests and diseases;
• The harvesting and processing of honey and other hive products;
A field day also will be held to work with bees, the date of which is to be announced.
The cost of the class is $20 per person, but free to those 16 and younger who attend with a registered adult. There is an additional $20 expense for “The Beekeepers Handbook” written by Diane Sammataro.
Madren said a person can get started in beekeeping with an investment of about $350 for protective gear, hive costs and other materials and, of course, the bees.
Students joining the Surry County Beekeepers may enter a drawing for a nuc, or nucleus colony, of local bees.
In recent years, bees have been declining at a rate of more than 20 percent annually, due to pathogens, pesticides, poor nutrition and parasites. On Jan. 10, the rusty patched bumblebee became the first bee species in the continental United States to be placed on the U.S. Endangered Species list.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.