Beekeepers happily buzzing along in Upshur Co.

© 2018-The Record Delta

BUCKHANNON — Think twice before telling honeybees to buzz off.

That’s the message the president of the Upshur County Beekeepers Association, Robert Kincaid, had for the Buckhannon Rotary Club Tuesday.

“Without bees and without earthworms, you wouldn’t have the lunch you have today,” Kincaid said, referring to the pulled pork sandwiches and pasta salad provided by Rotary’s caterer, Fish Hawk Acres. “You just can’t do agriculture without those two things.”

Kincaid came to Rotary to lay out the basics of beekeeping, in addition to the benefits it brings to local crops, and ultimately, agriculture in the county and state.

Kincaid said the county beekeepers association falls under the umbrella of the West Virginia Beekeepers Association and the W.Va. Department of Agriculture. In Upshur County, there are about 30-35 active members, although as many as 55 families belong, Kincaid said.

How many hives those beekeepers have varies dramatically.

“It ranges from one beehive all the way up to 25-40 hives,” Kincaid said. “To be an official beekeeper, you must register your colonies and apiaries (stands or sheds containing beehives) with the state association, and the reason you do that is to keep track of the kinds of beekeepers. There’s two kinds of beekeepers – you have beekeepers that produce honey, and then you have what they call pollinators. That’s when people raise bees to send them to different places to pollinate crops, and that’s the big money.”

Having been a beekeeper for 20-plus years, Kincaid knows a few fun facts about bees as well as the reasons they’re so essential to the food-growing process. While the state of North Carolina produces the most beehives and supplies for beekeepers in the country, the largest number of bees are born in Mississippi and Georgia.

Back in West Virginia, beekeepers could use more support from the state department of agriculture, Kincaid said.

“Right now, there’s not a lot of help coming out of the department of agriculture to help the beekeepers in the state,” Kincaid said. “Maybe it’s budgetary, but a few years ago, they bought every beekeeper in the state two boxes of bees, and a box of bees is about $150 for a 3-pound box of bees.”

However, that plan soon went south — quite literally.

“The problem was, [the bees] got here from Georgia, and most of them weren’t acclimated to West Virginia, and most of them died off the first year,” Kincaid said, adding the acclimation issue is why he buys his bees from a beekeeper in Tucker County. The department of agriculture does help monitor the trends in bees, i.e. whether or not it’s been a fruitful season. Local bees did not bode well in the 2017, Kincaid said.

“For instance, I had 10 hives at the end of last year, and right now I have three, so I have a 70 percent loss, and this is the first year in maybe 20 years that I didn’t make any honey to sell,” he said. “I think that’s because we had an extended warm period last summer, and we had periods within that summer where it was hot, and the bees were not, but there was nothing for them to collect to make honey.”

Honeybees pollinating fruit and vegetable crops yields a more bountiful harvest, Kincaid said. He saw it in his apples when he began keeping bees two decades ago.

“If we don’t have honeybees or earthworms, our agriculture really suffers,” he said. “It would be almost nonexistent. I’ll give you an example: when I got into beekeeping 20 years ago up in Hinkleville, I had apple trees, I had peach trees, I had cherry trees. My apple trees would grow, but they were kind of small and knotty. Once, I got the honeybees, I started getting nice, big, luscious apples.”

Anyone interested in embarking on the adventure of beekeeping should consider attending county beekeepers association meetings, which take place every third Tuesday of the month February through October at the Upshur County Farm Bureau building on Route 33.

“We do presentations and demonstrations every meeting – either we bring somebody in or we have one of the beekeepers in the association present something on how to do something better or on a problem we’re having,” Kincaid said.” The Upshur County Beekeepers Association is also currently sponsoring beekeeping classes at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School with the help of a grant obtained through the Tygart Valley Conservation District.

But newbie beekeepers bee-ware – setting up your first hives can be a costly endeavor.

“Getting started is expensive,” Kincaid said. “If you want to become a beekeeper, it’s going to cost about $200-$300 per hive, and that’s not counting $300 of the initial equipment.”

Beekeeping can be quite frustrating, Kincaid said, since on any given year, a person’s loss averages about 25 percent.

“That means if you have 100 hives, you’re going to lose 25 of those, so you can see it’s a big expense,” Kincaid said. “[2017] was exceptional. We’ve got one member who had 25 hives and lost all 25. I had 10, and I lost seven. I’ve got one weak one and two strong ones going into the spring.”

Typically, the county association matches new beekeepers with experienced ones through a mentorship program because beginners tend to get quickly frustrated, Kincaid said.

So, what can Upshur County do to encourage more people to join the bee brigade? Spread knowledge and stay away from spraying insecticide when flowers are in full bloom.

“We need to encourage and promote beekeeping through education,” Kincaid said. “Many people don’t understand what beekeepers and bees are all about. For instance, one thing that impacts us that the local population does is using insecticide at the wrong time of the year. If you have something that’s bloomed out, you should not put insecticide on it. But if you’ve got an apple tree and it’s budding, but it’s not bloomed out, you can spray it all day.”

To learn more about beekeeping in the Mountain State, visit www.wvbeekeepers.org.

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