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CLARKESVILLE — When you talk to Virginia and Carl Webb, and see them at work, it’s easy to see how much love they put into their craft.
Virginia, who eloquently explains the complex ecosystem that flowering plants in habit, and Carl, who has a slow grandfatherly affection for things that flourish and grow, together run MtnHoney and produce award-winning honey.
Virginia says “honey is the soul of the flower,” and bees are the tireless agents that make it, and practically any fruit or vegetable we eat, possible.
At the Webb Apiary in Clarkesville, nearly 300 colonies of bees pollinate the lush mountain area and produce countless tons of honey every year.
Saturday, a class of the Northeast Georgia Beekeepers met at Webb’s to check the different colonies for mites or other problems and learn firsthand about the honey extraction process in the MtnHoney honey house, a garage-sized building with machines for extracting and storing it.
MtnHoney, like many other apiaries, can make a sizable amount of honey that varies year to year, depending on season and weather. Carl estimates each of the 300 colonies they tend can produce between 80 to 100 pounds of honey, once in spring and once in summer, each season’s yield with its own unique taste and qualities from the different flowers and pollen the bees collect. It adds up to nearly 27,000 pounds of honey a year.
But unlike other beekeepers, Webb Apiary is known internationally as the best. In 2016. MtnHoney won its fourth gold medal for world’s best honey at the World Honey Show in Daejeon, South Korea. This gold-medal winning honey is straight from the hive with no modification, and tastes sweeter and lighter than the wildflower honey bought in grocery stores.
Their secret for success? Sourwood trees and the special breed of bees they keep.
Unlike most of their peers, the Webbs are members of the Russian Honeybee Breeders Association, and Carl Webb attributes some part of their success to that. The Russian honeybee, brought to the United States in the late ’90s, has a strong natural resistance to mites and diseases that regularly plague other bee populations, a resistance strengthened in the past years.
You can see the spark in Carl’s eye when he talks about how his bees are much more than a way of making a living, but rather a group of vibrant animals that teem with energy.
“It’s really a wonderful thing, taking care of bees,” he said. “Because there is something really alive and growing. It’s like keeping a garden.”
Virginia said beekeeping as a hobby is spreading, and the benefits of keeping bees outweighs the costs of starting a colony.
Beekeeper Katie Goodman explains that since adding hives to her land, she has seen an uptick in productivity in her garden.
“I have no problem with my tomatoes producing, or any other thing like that, my peaches do better,” said Goodman. “Everything does better with bees.”
But you don’t need a farm or even a yard to have productive happy bees. Beekeeping can be done from a space as small as the container the hive is in. The trend of rooftop gardens is becoming more popular, with people in cities across the United States realizing the benefits of keeping bees. Virginia says that in most cases, urban beekeepers have a lot of success due to the biodiversity found in urban areas.
“A lot of the urban outfits are making better honey than we are, and its because of all the different flowers in all the different gardens,” she said.
Beekeeping can be a hobby or a profession or a lifestyle, but regardless what it’s for, more bees being around benefits everyone.
And according to Goodman, starting out in beekeeping is as simple as taking a class, reading up and asking for help. Throughout the year, the Northeast Georgia Mountains Beekeepers Association hosts meetings and events that can put a prospective new beekeeper into contact with all of the resources needed to start a colony.