Creating a buzz around beekeeping

By on December 21, 2022

At OBX Beekeepers’ Guild, the talk is honey and hives

Denise Deacon trying to fix some “wonky” comb the bees had built in an open space inside a friend’s hive. (Photo courtesy Denise Deacon)

The monthly meeting of the Outer Banks Beekeepers’ Guild (OBBG) is about to begin, and in the meeting room behind the Kill Devil Hills library, there’s perhaps 20 guild members exchanging greetings and information at the December 14 gathering.

Guild President Dalton Hyde doesn’t so much call the meeting to order as he suggests that the featured speaker for the evening, Heidi Leo of Corolla, is ready and if everyone is prepared to hear what she has to say, please be seated.

The meeting is relaxed and informal. Leo’s talk contains a lot of information with questions coming at any time from members. It ranges from basic information — what a hive looks like — to more advanced and technical details.

Eventually it all comes down to when to harvest honey—usually late spring and mid- summer, although there is no set rule about that.

“Harvesting honey…it’s up to you whether or not and when and where you harvest. I harvest late,” Leo said, but added a cautionary note: “You have to be careful because if you have really ambitious bees like I’ve had in the past, the honey makes it really hot” in the hive during summer.

For Denise Deacon, who founded the OBBG in 2014, it is the social structure of the bees that captivates her imagination. The honey is a reward, but her interest is how the bees manage their environment.

“That’s what’s so fascinating. I really don’t care about the honey,” she said. “Just to be around something that is that amazing. That is the highlight of beekeeping.”

It is not only how bee society is structured, there is also the remarkable way they communicate when nectar is found. “The waggle dance, how they tell each other where they found that resource,” Deacon said. The round and waggle dances are a series of figure eights and circles scout bees use to tell other bees where they have found flowers. Identified by Austrian ethologist Karl von Frisch, his work led to a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973.

Deacon began beekeeping a number of years ago, hoping the bees would help a backyard garden be more productive. It probably didn’t. Typically gardens are pollinated by native pollinators — honeybees, native of either Europe or Asia are sometimes even considered invasive, although they have been a part of North America for 400 years.

“I felt the bees calling to me,” Deacon said. “The first influence in beekeeping was my father. He started a hive in my teenage years.”

As she became more interested in beekeeping, she reached out to a supplier in Goldsboro to see if he knew of other beekeepers on the Outer Banks. He had over 100 names.

Thinking others would like to have some support for what they were doing, she created the OBBG, which is a part of the North Carolina Beekeepers Association.

Harvey Murray came to beekeeping with a childhood memory similar to Deacon’s.

“My uncle had some hives,” he said. “I was always interested and when I retired and has some time, I got some bees. I have three [hives].”

Deacon mentions that when the OBBG was first formed, meetings were more formal.  But that didn’t seem to match the personality of the beekeepers.

“Some just come to the social events and some like to come to meetings and some are members just for the information,” she said. “I think there’s probably between 70 and 100 [members] between Corolla and Hatteras.”

Denise Deacon helping Dr. Gunther Heyder with a newly transferred cutout. (Photo courtesy Denise Deacon)

Deacon is recognized as an authority on all things bee. “I went to the bee meetings and became real close friends with Denise because she’s a veritable encyclopedia of bees,” noted Murray.At the meeting, Leo is talking about how to protect bees from the predators and pests that can destroy a hive. She and the members in the audience discount the perils of Outer Banks mammals — raccoons and possum. The real dangers to bees are wax moths, hive beetles and Varroa mites. And dealing with them is a point of some debate.

To protect her hives, Leo uses natural chemicals that have been shown to be effective against a number of the insect and mite infestations of a hive — although she emphasized that they must be applied appropriately and when there is no risk of them being in the honey the bees produce.

Deacon says there are two camps of thought on how to combat insects and mites.

“Different beekeepers keep their bees differently,” she said. “There are some of us, like me, who’s a natural beekeeper that don’t use any chemicals. And then there are others that treat their beehives. When we bring in speakers, we try to encompass all angles so that people can make an informed decision.”

Murray, whose amber honey was voted best of the guild at the November meeting, is in the natural camp. He points out that a healthy hive can protect itself, but for all beekeepers there is an acceptance of the good with the bad.

“I got four gallons of honey out of a hive this year,” he said. “I said ‘okay, I’m gonna leave the rest of the honey in there for the bees.’ I kept going out and looking and looking and they’re not producing a whole lot of [new] bees. What happened was, the wax moths were in there and…the hive was just overrun with wax moths.”

The hive was lost, but Murray took a beekeeper’s philosophical approach.

“They’ll just destroy the hive and you’ve got to clean it all out. And then you go buy a box of bees for $130 for the next year,” he said.


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