Sunday, March 6, 2011

Carrying on a family tradition: Beekeeping

By Rachael Wright
Contributing Writer
News & Record (Greensboro, NC)
March 6, 2011

In the photo: James Wilkes (left) takes frames of honey out to explain the process to a professor from Appalachian State University as his son, Sullivan, watches.Courtesy of James Wilkes.

Mark Martin and James Wilkes are passionate and deeply involved in the adventure of beekeeping. Martin even calls his worker bees and the Queen bee in his hive “the girls.” The two men’s work in apiculture, or beekeeping, is as important as saving the rites of spring.

Wilkes, professor and chairman of the computer science department at Appalachian State University in Boone, grew up with bees in his backyard on Moir Street in Eden. His dad, Bob Wilkes, began keeping beehives a few years before Wilkes’ birth. Wilkes learned all the skills, terminology and discipline of beekeeping at a young age from his father, a beloved Eden educator.

Martin received his first beehive as a Christmas gift from his wife, Teresa, after they bought land on Roberts Road off N.C. 770. Martin had finished his Navy duty by then and had returned to his hometown. The Martins bought 3 acres — enough for fields of flowers, a garden, a greenhouse and the bee yard.

Three more beehives now sit in their lower front yard as sisters to the first hive in the back. Martin counted on the close-knit community of the Rockingham County Beekeeping Association to help him set up his hive. Bill Waddel is a friend and mentor to Martin.

In 2006, colony collapse disorder was first noticed, and ever since bees have been vanishing from many states and elsewhere in the world.

“The media jumped on the story of the disappearing bees, and people thought the world would come to an end,” Wilkes said. “With no bees, there is no pollination. Without pollination, there would be no fruits, nuts or vegetables.”

Although there has been no single cause attributed to the devastation of the bee population, research is being done to find a reason, Wilkes says.

Martin describes the heartbreak of opening a hive and instead of finding thousands of bees, finding only a few.

Varroa mites are particularly deadly because they enter the abdomen of the bee and are hard to see. Other mites, beetles and diseases plague the hives and the beekeepers. Colony collapse disorder is perhaps the most dreaded.

Even Albert Einstein worried about bees. Rachel Carson’s 1960 “Silent Spring,” a groundbreaking study about the evils of using pesticides in farming and gardening, initiated a burst of environmental laws and research.

Martin is a crusader for helping bees. He encourages people to plant bee-friendly plants and flowers and to set out water for bees.

Martin often sees bees encircling his birdbath. He hopes that gardeners will think twice before using pesticides. If pesticides are used, he suggests spraying in the late afternoon. Bees will take the toxic pesticide from a blooming flower to its hive.

Martin’s descriptions of the life and care of bees make it hard to believe that beekeeping is only a hobby. He is employed at Dixie Sales in Greensboro and also operates a landscaping business from his home.

Wilkes inherited three hives from his father in 2000. Now, he has 75 hives on his farm in Creston. He leases one-third of his hives and splits the honey harvest with the leasers. His older sons, Galen and Sullivan, are already involved in keeping bees and selling honey at the Watauga Farmer’s Market in Boone on Saturdays from April to October.

On the family farm, the brothers help their dad with the beehives. They are learning beekeeping: the fascination of bees, smoking the hive to calm the bees to be able to work with them, catching swarms that have left a crowded hive to find another home in the springtime, observing Wilkes extracting the honey from the centrifugal honey extractor and, as Wilkes says, “trying to figure it (beekeeping) out.”



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