Jody O'Hara

I attended my second meeting of the Red Creek Beekeepers Monday evening.

And, for the second time, I came away entirely amazed at what those busy little bees do for our environment.

Understand, I wasn’t there because I keep bees myself, but because I had been invited to cover a presentation by a man who many may consider to be the top bee expert in the state.

Jeff Harris, an associate professor of apiculture - a fancy word for the study of bees - at Mississippi State University, was literally raised with honey bees and, in addition to his academic work, has been involved in commercial beekeeping on a rather large scale.

He came to Stone County to advise those in attendance concerning bee care during the summer months.

In addition to knowledge concerning hive management, he shared fascinating facts – and myths – about honey bees.

He said many people are under the mistaken assumption that honey is better for diabetics than processed sugar.

“Honey is sugar, its two main sugar ingredients are fructose and glucose and it should not be consumed by diabetics without consulting with a physician,” he said. “He supported the claim that honey should not be fed to infants less than 1-year-old and went even further, saying he would not feed it to an infant less than 2-years-old.

“What we essentially do is farm honey,” he said. “All forms of farms have some level of clostridium botulinum and infants’ immune systems have not developed protection against it.

“They can get a diarrhea so bad it can actually be fatal.”

Scary, indeed.

He also pointed out the fact beeswax is actually more valuable than the honey the bees fill the combs with.

I hadn’t known bees were robbers.

Turns out, the winged little creatures are as larcenous as humans.

Bees from one hive will send a scout to look for a weak hive and, if the scout finds one, it returns to its own hive and leads a horde of its hive mates to rob the weaker hive of its honey.

The bees, both robbers and defenders, will fight to the death over the honey.

I’m telling you, it was downright fascinating.

So much so that I contacted friends who keep bees in an attempt to find out why they risked getting stung in order to propagate a species which is, really, so misunderstood.

Ike Harbuck, the former district manager for Mississippi Power in this area, kept a number of hives on his property and has, like Harris, been involved with bees since his childhood.

“What I enjoy more than anything is helping people get started,” he said. “That’s what my daddy passed to me, that if you didn’t help others, at some point, there wouldn’t be anything but commercial beekeepers.”

And while it is commercial in nature, many beekeepers practice the hobby just enough to cover the cost of the hobby.

“All the honey I sell just pays for the equipment and the things necessary to continue,” Harbuck said. “At the end of the day, though, there is a sweet reward for your efforts.”

Keeping bees can also be philosophical in nature.

Robby Rikard, the pastor at First Baptist Church of Wiggins, got started with help from Harbuck and is totally enthralled with the hobby.

“I think they’re fascinating creatures,” he said. “I helped a church member harvest his honey and his wife was telling me all these fascinating facts about bees.

“Ike let me come and shadow him and watch what he does and, at the end of the day, he gave me a hive to get me started.”

Observing the bees is a relaxing pastime for Rikard.

“It’s physical as opposed to intellectual and there’s a finished project when your work is done,” he said. “It’s fulfilling to me to see a finished project, but the creatures themselves remind me of the Lord and who He is and the wonderful things he created for us.”

A dear friend in Baltimore, Paula Brown, began keeping bees just this year and said it’s almost a spectator sport.

She placed her hive in a field of sunflowers planted by her son Jared.

She visits for maintenance daily and has been fascinated by watching the bees produce brood, protect their queen and coming and going to gather food and produce their golden elixir.

She said people will stop alongside the road and watch her in her endeavors.

Amazing, I tell you.

Let me leave you with one last fact.

One third of everything we eat can be attributable to the pollination efforts of honey bees.

That doesn’t include all the other pollinators in God’s kingdom, just the honey bees.

Think of it! One third of all the food produced!

Perhaps we should all get a hive.

Think about it.

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