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Workshops, info sessions teach novice beekeepers proper colony care

Experts makes suggestions for land use, water sources and sun exposure

POSTED: February 16, 2012 11:30 p.m.

Mona Reese of Fleming Island, Fla., takes notes Saturday during a beekeeping class at the Smithgall Woods Conservation Center in Helen.

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Although the gardening world seems to be all abuzz with talks of backyard bee hives, experts say you shouldn't fly blindly into the beekeeping arena.

Even the governor's mansion has a few hives kept by the groundskeeper. The father of Georgia's first lady Sandra Deal is said to have been an avid beekeeper.

And the recent green movement has prompted many people to grow their own vegetable gardens, which need pollination. Then there are the health benefits of honey touted by naturalists. Let's not forget the crafters making their own candles and soaps.

"It's been a pretty steady increase in interest over the years," said Berry Wright, who is the beekeeper for Smithgall Woods State Park in Helen.

"Before people get started, they really need to educate themselves.

Experts like Wright recommend attending workshops and other information sessions before you make the investment in a beekeeping enterprise.

Though you don't need multiple acres of land to use for your beehives, you do need to proceed with caution.

"It's not so much about space as it is about the placement of the beehives on your property," said Berry Wright, who is also a Hall County beekeeper.

"A lot of it is common sense. Obviously you don't want to face the hive directly toward a neighbor's house if it is real close to you."

If your neighbors are in close proximity, and if you don't want them to get a bee in their bonnet every time a member of your colony flies across their property, there are things you can do to reduce that traffic.

"You can control their flight path by planting shrubbery in front of the hive," Wright said.
"That way, the bees have to go up when they come out of the colony."

In addition to assessing your own property for a suitable location, you should also pay close attention to nearby yards.

"Bees have to have water," Wright said. "They will go to the closest water source because they are trying to conserve their energy.

"If your neighbor has a swimming pool, it could be a problem with the bees getting water from there. For someone who is used to bees, that probably wouldn't be a problem, but it could be an issue for some."

Wright knows a thing or two about bees. He regularly teaches workshops and has been a bee-keeper since he was a child.

"I've been keeping bees since I was a 10-year-old boy," Wright said. "At first it was a hobby, but it changed into a small scale (business)."

According to the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, "honeybees can be kept almost anywhere there are flowering plants that produce nectar and pollen."

The college warns beekeepers to choose an area with light foot traffic, one that is sheltered from winds and one that gets full exposure from the sun.

Although fruit trees and vegetable gardens within several miles of a beehive benefit greatly from the little pollinators, Wright says don't expect beekeeping to be all roses.

"The amount of work that you have to put in is relative to the number of colonies you have," Wright said.

"It can be quite expensive to keep them alive due to the health issues related to foreign pests.

"You have to go into this being aware of what you need to do to maintain the health of your colony. Even if you do everything by the book, you could still lose the bees."

From golden honey to a bounty of beautiful flowers, when done properly, beekeeping can be worth the efforts.

"It can be discouraging at times. You really need to love the work and love bees."



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