DOBSON — Along with the sounds usually coming from the drones and queens, there’s another buzz in the local beekeeping community about an upcoming opportunity.
The Surry County Bee School will soon be in session again in Dobson, geared toward beginning beekeepers. Though its first meeting isn’t until Feb. 20 from 7 to 9 p.m., those interested are asked to register early due to the need to order bees from a supplier by Feb. 7. They often sell out early, organizers say.
Books will need to be lined up as well.
Classes will be held on Feb. 20 and 27 and March 5, 15 and 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. The location is the downtown conference room of the Farm Bureau building in Dobson. Field days are planned for March 17 and 31 and April 14.
Reservations can be made with the Surry County extension office at 336-401-8025. The registration cost is $25, which includes a book and the classroom instruction. An additional family member can sign up for another $15 (without a book), while persons 16 and under may attend for free with a registered adult.
Mark Fowlkes, president of the sponsoring Surry County Beekeepers Association, said the free offer to the 16-and-under group represents an attempt to get younger folks interested in an activity that tends to be dominated by older residents of the county.
“I’m 40 and I’m probably one of the younger members,” he said of the beekeeper group, which now has about 60 members.
Another attraction regarding the upcoming bee school involves a chance to win a nucleus — or “nuc” — of local bees, which will be presented to one student as a door prize.
More details about the school can be found at the website http://beekeeping.insurrycounty.com/.
Some might wonder why they should consider taking a beekeeping course in the first place, and Fowlkes said there are various reasons including the concern of having enough honeybees in circulation to pollinate crops.
Another is economic, driven by a demand for locally produced honey from a recently publicized situation regarding world commerce. “China is dumping a lot of honey in our markets,” Fowlkes said, adding that the same is true for lesser-developed nations.
When people buy local honey, they know it can be trusted, he said, and those raising it can benefit financially from such demand.
Then there are the priceless health and other benefits beekeeping offers to practitioners.
“Some people are like my girlfriend, who finds that it really calms her down,” said Fowlkes, who lives near the Mitchell River Game Preserve in the Elkin area and is in his second year of the hobby. “It has a really calming effect, ‘cause you’ve got to be slow with the bees.”
Fowlkes, who works for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, also pointed to the fascinating aspects of honeybees.
“They’re really interesting organisms — their social behavior is incredible for something that’s so small,” he said. The bees also have a highly sophisticated system of communication.
“There’s a lot to learn there,” Fowlkes added.
The content of the upcoming school includes an introduction to beekeeping, equipment needed to get started, how to assemble equipment, hive management of the colonies, harvesting and processing honey and pests and diseases of bees. In addition to the hands-on field days planned, mentors will be assigned upon request.
“If interested, we will do a workshop to help people put their hives together,” Fowlkes said.
A package of bees can cost $75 to $110, with are available from local and regional suppliers.
Then there are the hives. “We typically recommend two hives,” Fowlkes said. “Just because you can have something to compare to,” he explained. If one hive is doing well and the second one is not, then the techniques of the thriving one can be applied to the other.
The cost of the hives can depend on whether one is buying new or used equipment. Hives also can be built.
Some people might avoid beekeeping due to the fear of stings, but that can be pretty much eliminated with the proper gear — and behavior.
“All you really need is a veil,” Fowlkes said, along with a device called a smoker. Other than that, keepers can get by with long-sleeved shirts and long pants and tight-fitting gloves, since the key is cutting off any opportunity for a bee to infiltrate clothing.
The cost of protective gear can be quite small, as described by Fowlkes.
Even an extra-careful keeper is likely to get stung from time to time because of the nature of the enterprise. But the beekeeping association president said the key is avoiding an attack with many stings, which can cause serious health problems.
“It depends on how calm you are with the bees,” he said. “Just go slow and take it easy — and you learn to listen to your bees.”
The creatures also can be counted on to be more restless or aggressive in cold or wet weather, and when trying to protect their fall honey.
Fowlkes also mentioned that class members who join the Surry County Beekeepers Association can benefit by having a network of experts to seek advice from in the future. The group meets once a month, on the first Monday.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.