Beekeeper Keith Green thinks he might be on to something.
Green isn’t using commercial-bred bee queens or medicating them. It could be a reason why he’s having one of the best honey years he’s had. Or it could just be the weather. He’s the first to say that when it comes to hives of bees, nothing is written in stone.
“There’s no certain rules for beekeeping,” Green said. “Some things will work for you, but that might change from season to season.”
It’s a challenge Green didn’t suspect he might have to face 10 years ago when he had no interest in beekeeping, despite growing up around it since his stepfather, Glen White, kept up to a 100 hives. It wasn’t just a weekend hobby for White, who won at a grand national competition for his amber honey one year, but it started out that way for Green.
In 2002, White told Green he needed some hives on his land so Green told him to bring some out.
“He got one for me, and I started tinkering around and reading about them,” Green said. “Then I bought some hives and put them together and got some more.”
Green said it’s hard to stop with just a hive or two. It got a little more addictive when Green took his honey down to the Winchester-Clark County Farmers Market.
“I went down there and in a month, I sold every drop I had,” he said.
Now it’s a business.
The Honey Dew Apiary operates out of Green’s garage, and his wife Jane is a partner in crime — she does most of the selling at the farmers market. Green’s hives dot the Clark County landscape now.
It’s a long way from the single hive he kept in his backyard, but the missteps he experienced and the guidance offered by White helped him. Green has nearly 20 ribbons to prove it.
In 2009, he walked away with a pair of first-place finishes. In 2010, he nabbed six. But it was last year when he made the biggest splash. He took home three ribbons and was the overall sweepstakes winner. At the Lexington Bluegrass Fair in 2010, he was awarded best in show and won five ribbons.
Working with the bees brings a few risks, but Green is a bit cavalier with all those stingers buzzing around. Normally he just wears a beekeeper’s hood to protect his face; his hands and even his arms bare and exposed.
“The only time you’ll get stung is if you put your finger on one of them,” he said. “I’ve gotten pretty used to it. They still make me cuss, but they don’t bother me too much.”
But Green isn’t without his horror stories. He took his lumps during the early days of his hobby.
“When I first started, I got stung a lot,” he said. “I’d go out every day and look in there because I was
curious. I was aggravating them.”
Once, Green left a hive tool out, a piece of metal shaped a bit like a crowbar, and he thought he could just go grab it without protection.
“I dropped that hive tool and got stung 17 times before I got to the house,” he said.
But that’s something people actually get wrong about bees, Green said. They’re not terribly aggressive unless something is wrong with the hive.
“You’ll run into worse bees in your yard than out here,” he said.
Pollination of the hobby
Green thinks most people should start their journey into beekeeping much like he did, namely finding someone like White to be a mentor. The best place to do that is with the Bluegrass Beekeepers Association. The group meets the second Monday of each month. More information can be found at bluegrassbeekeepers.blogspot.com.
“They’ll help you get stuff at a decent price and show you what to do and guide you along,” he said.
And the group is happy to accept new members. After all, keeping the bee population up not only helps the production of honey but the bees also play a vital role in pollination, helping account for nearly one third of the human food supply.
The population of bees has dwindled since 1972, but in 2006 the number started falling off at a much quicker pace, according to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. So the BBA isn’t just trying to spread the joy of its hobby, but is also keeping an eye on a major cog in the agricultural machine.
The most immediate byproduct of beekeeping is, of course, the honey. The taste and color of honey varies nearly as much as the potential nectar a bee can find.
Most commercial honey is blended honey, coming from different nectar sources, but wildflower honey — derived from many types of flowers — and honeydew honey, which is much darker and comes from secretions of aphids or sap-sucking insects, are other types.
Green said if the spring is warm enough, the hive is large enough for bees to draw nectar from locust tree blooms, creating locust honey, a particular type that avid honey eaters tend to enjoy. It’s the most popular and quickest selling of Green’s varieties of honey.
“It’s got a light, sweet taste,”¿Green said. “I took off probably 80 gallons and I probably sold almost all of it. People who eat honey, they know what it is.”
There’s also comb honey, which includes a piece of the honeycomb.
The biggest difference between what Green offers and store-bought honey is what’s in it. Commercial honey,¿Green said, is heated to thin it then fine filtered, leaving very little of the pollen or original nectar in it.
“There’s no nutritional value in that honey whatsoever,” Green said.
Lessons learned from the hive
More than just what nectar makes what honey, Green has learned some other things from his hives.
“The bees operate the way a community should,” he said. “All the bees in the hive work for the queen, but the queen doesn’t make the decisions. All the workers make the decisions. That’s the way I think the politicians should work.”
When the bees need more help, the worker bees will get together and make the decision. They’ll let the queen know they need help and she’ll start laying more eggs. When things slow down, they’ll have the queen return to a normal rate of production.
“They’re all working for the president, but the president doesn’t make decisions; they do,” he said. “That makes more sense to me.”
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