Paul Madren, who currently ranks as a North Carolina master beekeeper, says that in 1959, a bee colony swarmed into his yard and moved in. “I’ve been keeping bees ever since,” he said. Madren’s dedication to his craft appears to have had a domino effect in his community, so much so that a beekeeping school–Surry County Bee School–has grown each year to include men and women of all ages. Whether if participants are interested in a hobby or a potential career, the course is meant to cover as much as possible with plenty of hands-on experience, perfect for memorizing craft specifics and proper safety.
According to Madren, the course covers everything a beginner would need to start a bee colony. “Basically, it’s what is a bee, who is in the hive and what jobs they have, how to protect the hive from diseases and pests, and how to collect honey at the end,” said Johanna Radford, the school’s cooperative extension agent. The course also covers necessary safety gear and and equipment, such as hive bodies, feeding supplies, smokers, queen rearing gear, and also protective suits and veils. “We have some fun in there,” said Madren.
As said previously, the bee school has grown over the years, with classes sometimes having 60 participants at time. “It’s come to be an ‘in’ thing to do,” said Madren. “A lot of young people are really getting into it.” Honey is cited as a main reason behind local interest, but Madren has noted people are also interested in enhancing gardens and helping the environment. Thankfully, the course teaches the importance of bees as pollinators, with Radford saying “one in three bites of everything we eat can be attributed to pollinators,” and without them store shelves would contain a lot of pasta and not much else, stressing how essential honeybees are for the national food supply.
In addition to the hows and whys, the course also provides much hands-on experience, from field days to managing an undesirable and potentially deadly side effect of beekeeping–stings. “Yes, you will get stung,” Madren said. “Beekeepers get stung less the more they’re educated on the environment in which they’re working and what aggravates bees.” The course seeks to protect its students through education, including such knowledge as the weather producing either calmness or aggression. “You learn these things as you become a good beekeeper,” by Madren’s words.
This year’s bee school begins in early March and once the five weeks is up, the weather will have warmed just in time for students to get a move on with summer gardens and summer hives. With Madren’s instruction and that of instructor Greg Fariss, those students will have the training they need to contribute to the beekeeping industry and the overall health and safety of honeybees.