BUCKHANNON — The West Virginia state insect has been the honeybee since 2002, when the state legislature recognized West Virginia’s potential for the honey industry. It should come as no surprise that the buzz of beekeeping has stayed alive in the state and even thrived through home beekeepers. Buckhannon resident Rod Shaver has been beekeeping since he was 15 years old.
“My granddad had bees, so I was always around it,” Shaver said. “But after we moved, my neighbor had bees, and it was he who gave me my first swarm to start with. After that, it just stuck.”
Shaver now owns 75 separate beehives and said the benefits to raising bees are almost endless.
“I get so much enjoyment from just having them,” he said. “They are very calming to watch how they work and produce. You also get honey, and they pollinate all the plants around their hive.”
Eric Grandon, the owner of Sugar Bottom Farm, said he cannot find anything he does not like about his bees.
“I don’t find any of it difficult,” Grandon said. “I have about 112 hives, and I really just get lost in the bees because they are an amazing super organism. There is no arguing whatsoever that it is a perfect society in the bug world.”
Grandon started beekeeping two years ago with the Veterans and Warriors Agriculture Program, and now he offers free training at his farm in Clay County.
“I show people how safe the bees are,” Grandon said. “I wear shorts and a T-shirt, because they are very gentle as long as you treat them gently. No one has left my farm not wanting to start owning bees; you just have to show them how easy it really is.”
Sugar Bottom Farm also sells beekeeping equipment and swarms of bees for those who want to start working with bees. For those who do not have the capability of having hives at their home, Grandon also offers an Adopt a Hive program that is also free. Adopters are given one of the farm’s many hives to call their own, and Grandon shows them how to care for the bees. They are also allowed to paint the box their bees live in.
Shaver said it isn’t hard for people to get started with beekeeping because most counties in West Virginia offer clubs to help prospective beekeepers.
New beekeepers should not be discouraged early on, he added.
“The best advice I could give someone is to be patient,” Shaver said. “You might get disappointed when you get stung, but don’t give up. It will get better.”
The honey made by bees is used in all kinds of products, from homemade mead to candy to spaghetti sauce.
“I have friends that substitute the sugar in the spaghetti sauce for the honey to give it more thickness, and my mother just loves putting it in her tea,” Shaver said.
Local honey may taste different from store-bought honey because Shaver said most mass-produced honey is mixed with fructose corn syrup.
There are other benefits to owning bees as well. On top of having all of the honey, Grandon said the bees pollinate his garden.
The West Virginia Beekeeping Association has been around for 100 years and connects all the beekeeping clubs in the state in one place. Check them out at wvbeekeepers.org.