Gardening 101

So You Want to Be a Beekeeper?


We have all heard about the important role honey bees play in pollinating food-producing plants. It is estimated that about one-third of the foods we enjoy daily are the result of these industrious little insects. Over the years, the honey bee has been under attack from a number of pests and viruses, and given their critical role in our food supply what can we do to help them help us? Support local beekeepers.

Beekeeping Basics

Did you know that North Carolina has one of the largest beekeeping populations in the country? Why do folks decide to take up beekeeping? There are probably almost as many reasons for keeping bees as there are beekeepers. Some folks take up the hobby for fun, others because they find bees fascinating and magical, some continue a family tradition of beekeeping, others love the connection to nature, while some view it as a money-making hobby, and others find it contributes to life-long learning. And it’s easy to start with the proper beekeeping equipment.

Pakis Bessias, the Durham County Beekeepers Association vice president says “It’s a great hobby that connects you with things you normally don’t pay much attention to in your daily routine. Things like the weather, which plants are in bloom at different times of the year, which plants or flowers are visited by honey bees, and more.”

Durham beekeeper Nancy Herndon loves the fact that the honey bees pollinate the blueberry plants on her family’s pick your own farm “It’s fun, the bees are cool and I love to watch them pollinating our plants! They make all the seasons come alive as they pollinate the flowers and trees.”

But as Mark Smith also of the Durham club points out, you don’t need to live out in the country to keep bees. “I’ve always wanted to be a beekeeper but squirreled away my dream thinking I needed lots of land. During an afternoon activity with my daughter, we witnessed a beekeeper in downtown Durham working on their hives. I was immediately floored wondering how they could keep bees in an urban environment. After doing some research and finding a local beekeeping club, I jumped headfirst into this amazing hobby.”

Participating in a local beekeeping club is an important part of being a beekeeper. The club Mark joined is the Durham County Beekeepers Association and he also attended their Bee School in order to learn as much as he could before setting up his backyard apiary.

There is a lot to learn and as the old adage goes, if you ask 10 beekeepers a question you will get 13 answers. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that the more beekeepers engage with each other, the more each of us is likely to maintain our commitment to tending colonies in our own backyards” explains Stan Holt of Durham. “it is this community building that makes a difference in supporting the long term health of honey bees and other pollinators”.

How to Help Bees

Grey Reavis, the club’s president, reminds us there are a lot of ways to support beekeepers, honeybees, and other pollinators.

When choosing plants for your landscape, choose pollinator-friendly native plants whenever possible to help honey bees make honey! Buy plants from local nurseries that avoid using pesticides so plants are more bee friendly!

Consider planting for all seasons especially late summer and fall when natural sources of food for honey bees decrease.

Limit the use of chemicals in your yard, especially pesticides, whenever possible. Pesticides can’t differentiate between beneficial insects such as honey bees and problematic, undesired ones.

Opt for natural mosquito control techniques such as eliminating standing water.

Consider keeping a ‘natural’ lawn with clover and dandelions which provide additional sources of nectar for honey bees.

Provide a shallow water source for honey bees complete with stones or sticks so they have a place to land without drowning. Change water regularly.

Buy local honey from a local beekeeper – it’s delicious and it keeps local bees in business.

The Durham County Beekeepers Association meets the third Monday of the month at 7pm at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

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