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What's the buzz about beekeeping?

Jessica Dunker • Jun 4, 2017 at 6:10 PM

For some people, the idea of beekeeping is a horror tale personified, but believe it or not, the Washington County Beekeepers Association has a swarm of beekeepers with members in several surrounding counties. From beginners to advanced keepers, these individuals come together to continuously grow and expand their apiaries, or bee farms.

WCBA President James Wagner said, “[Bees] are just so compelling. I’ve always been personally interested in nature and wildlife...It’s just so fascinating to me.”

This month, the WCBA is trying something different. Rather than hosting their usual meeting in the Gray Ruritan building, the group has decided to move their location to a larger venue and will present guest speaker Dr. John Skinner from the University of Tennessee.

Skinner is a professor in the UT Institute of Agriculture in Entomology and Plant Pathology. He talks at beekeeping conferences all across the world, and now he’s coming here to Johnson City.

The WCBA’s goal is to “educate beekeepers and the general public,” said WCBA President James Wagner. Their monthly meetings not only mark the importance of honeybees but of other pollinators too.

“They're such complex insects,” Wagner said. “With specialization of tasks inside the colony and the whole way they operate just fascinates me, everything from the queen and the worker, and the drones, which are the males. The workers have their various jobs, which they progress through their lives, and they will literally work themselves to death in the end … It’s the whole complex structure.”

Wagner describes the colony as a democratic system. The decisions they make as a swarm are directed as one, another facet that Wagner admires. He said an entire colony works as one organism. “There’s so many little things like that draw me in and keep me,” Wagner said.

Wagner presented other facts about bees that most people don’t know.

Bee Facts
  • We know the queen is inherently female, but did you know all of the worker bees are female?
  • What has a grandfather but no father? Male bees! The males are called drones, and they’re born from fertilized eggs with no real father.
  • The differentiating factor between the queen and the workers are something as simple as what they’re fed. The queen is fed what is called “royal jelly,” whereas the workers are fed a mixture of pollen and honey.
  • Honeybees are responsible for pollinating approx 80% of all fruit, vegetable and seed crops in the U.S.
  • A populous colony may contain 40,000 to 60,000 bees during the late spring or early summer.

“It’s so fascinating to me that there’s so much specialization,” Wagner said.

The WCBA also interacts with the community. They give presentations at schools and other local events, but they offer their services too. If someone needs help extracting a swarm from a residence, some of these beekeepers are willing to help.

For those with a fear of bees, Wagner said, “It’s hard to overcome a phobia, and really a lot of times it’s an unwarranted fear. They need to respected definitely, but typically honeybees are very gentle. They don’t sting...As long as you’re relatively slow and methodical and patient and careful, odds are you won’t get stung at all.”

This special event will take place June 6 at ETSU Brown Hall, Room 112 from 7 to 9 p.m.

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