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The buzz on bees

Local group turning honey into hobby

Posted: January 3, 2012 4:52 p.m.
Updated: January 4, 2012 5:00 a.m.

A group of bee enthusiasts known as the Wateree Beekeepers Association is creating quite a buzz locally as interest in its favorite backyard hobby continues to grow around the Palmetto State.     

According to Association President Mike Radcliffe, the group was created about four years ago as local curiosity toward beekeeping started to increase.

“The closest association before was in Lexington with the Mid-State Beekeepers, but we have people living in Bethune and Hartsville and it was really too hard for them to drive all the way to Lexington once a month for a meeting,” Radcliffe said. “We only had three people attend our first meeting, but the attendance has really picked up over the years. Now about 20 or so people usually attend. We have members as young as 9 and as old as their early 60s. But I even know people in their 80s who still keep up with it. And there are a lot of people who actually take up beekeeping as a family project.”

The group meets the first Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Family Community Leadership (Extension Homemakers) Building at the corner of DeKalb and Church streets in Camden. The association also plans to hold beginner beekeeping classes starting Jan. 12. 

“We teach everything there is to know,” Radcliffe said. “We start out with the equipment. We discuss what the bees bring into the hive. We give them some basic anatomy of the bee. We also go into diseases, pests and integrated pest management.”

On average, a hive in South Carolina produces about 60 pounds (5 gallons) of honey per year, according to Radcliffe. The honey also has a variety of different uses.  

“You’ve got eating and baking, but I’ve been selling a lot of honey to people making what I call ‘lotions and potions.’ A lot of people are also going all natural. There’s a lady I know from the Sandhills Farmers Market in Columbia that is no longer using sugar. She sweetens everything with honey now.”

Radcliffe noted that if you’re afraid of getting stung, then beekeeping would probably not be up your alley.  

“You don’t have much business being a beekeeper if you’re afraid of it,” he said. “Although getting stung is an annoyance, I’ve learned over the years that the venom is actually a potential cure for a number of things including multiple sclerosis, depression and arthritis. Those are just some of things that they’ve been looking at. So I don’t really look at being stung as a bad thing anymore.”

Since stinging can also be potentially dangerous, Radcliffe said safety is always a top priority when handling the bee hives.  

“Once you really get into it, you can listen to the sound of the bees and the buzz can tell you what kind of mood they’re in. When they’re mad, for instance, you can hear a change in the buzz. That’s the first key to knowing you’re in trouble.”

He added that a safety veil is perhaps the most essential piece of equipment for a beekeeper and one of the best ways to ward off potential stings.

“The first year of beekeeping is the most expensive because you’re buying all the equipment. That’s also a good reason to take our class because a lot of people go out and buy lots of equipment and find out they don’t need it. And many of the companies that we deal with actually give a first time beekeeper discount.” 

Radcliffe said beekeeping equipment has changed greatly over the years and that knowledge about the insect is also always evolving.

“You’ll never learn it all. The biggest book about the bee is ‘The Hive and the Honeybee.’ It was started in 1850 and has probably been updated about three dozen times. It must be 3 or 4 inches thick with about 600 pages,” he said.

He added that beekeeping is becoming a favorite among local hobbyists as people learn more about bees and producing honey.

“There are about 18 to 20 associations in the state, but more are coming in every year,” Radcliffe said. “It’s getting a lot more popular.” 

To learn more about the Wateree Beekeepers Association, visit the group’s website at kcbeekeepers.webs.com.

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