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Earth Sense: Bees sting is worth sweet reward
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When bees are mentioned, painful bee stings may come to mind. But the culprits in most cases are wasps, especially the ground-dwelling yellow jackets.

Their distant cousins, the honeybees, are much friendlier and supply us with a delicious food product that never spoils.

Bob Bradbury, a beekeeper from Flowery Branch, has been at it since 1976.

“We initially started this to ensure pollination of the garden,” he said. Bees play a vital role in helping food plants reproduce. “The honey was first intended for family use only. But we ended up getting so much of it that I began to sell it at local farmers’ markets.”

Keeping honeybees is becoming increasingly popular among gardeners. It improves the quality of the plants in a wide radius, but initial mistakes can happen.

“The first time I went into the hives, I got several stings,” Bradbury said. “A proper outfit with a face net is important.

Besides, honeybees die after stinging to protect the hive, so you’ll want to avoid that.”

This is only likely when they feel their nest is threatened, though. Honeybees rarely get aggressive while working on flowers and other plants.

Buying local honey at the farmers’ market has advantages over cheap, generic products from the supermarket.

It’s not a mix of dozens of honeys from all over the country, or even stretched with corn syrup.

Whether local honey helps curb allergies is disputed by some medical experts. However, other health benefits are not. The flavonoids in honey are antioxidants that promote heart health. As a sweetener, honey is preferable to processed sugar because it helps regulate blood sugar levels.

Starting your own beehive comes with challenges.  

“Neighbors, especially gardeners, usually have no objections,” Bradbury said.

But the varroa mite is a pest attacking bees, and careful management is necessary to prevent the hive from getting wiped out. Another problem is pesticides applied at nearby orchards and gardens. While they are effective in killing harmful insects, they are also deadly to the bees.

“This summer, we’ve seen a great drop in productivity and suspected insecticides first,” said Bradbury. “But the problem seems to be the drought. Even with water available near the hive, the bees can get dehydrated when working 2 miles away from it.”

North Georgians interested in beekeeping should consult with the Northeast Georgia Mountain Beekeepers Association (www.negabeekeeping.com) for advice and training workshops.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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