Andy Broadbent Doesn't Mind Robbing Honey
Some people play golf for relaxation. But for Andy Broadbent of Pisgah Forest, there's nothing better than getting a bit of fresh air while working with the bees that live in two hives just a few feet from the front door of his home. It's a hobby he picked up while taking an elective course as a college student at Clemson University.
It turns out that a lot of folks are doing the same thing. Every year, there's a class for beginning beekeepers held by the state Cooperative Extension Service at the agricultural research center near the Asheville Regional Airport.
Broadbent sold his veterinary practice and has more time on his hands than in the past. But beekeeping is not something he does to make money. He has horses, chickens, and assorted other animals to look after, and he fills in here and there for other vets in the area.
"I think there's more people working with bees at this level than you might think. I dare say we give away more honey than we use. Bees are interesting. There's no doubt about that," he said.
Broadbent swaps information and beekeeping equipment with neighbors who share his interest. "It's just like gardening. We share our successes and failures." What seems to work for one hive may not work with another, he said.
In the past couple of years, beekeepers at all levels have become aware of a serious new problem with bee hives in the United States and other countries around the world. Entire colonies of bees are dying mysteriously and scientists aren't sure why. It seems to be happening more commonly with large, commercial operations, and it has not reached Western North Carolina, but it has the potential to be catastrophic. Bees and their pollen are essential to agriculture.
The phenomenon has been called "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD). "It's devastating. Nobody can get a specific handle as to what it is," said Broadbent.
Broadbent found that elective course at Clemson to be tougher than some. "It wasn't your basic breeze elective," he said. It also proved difficult to deal with when it came time to transport his hive from his mother's home in Charleston, S.C., where she looked after it for him for a while, back to Brevard.
In those days, he drove a Ford Pinto, and he decided to haul the bees by strapping them to the outside of the vehicle. Things took a turn for the worse when the hive moved slightly near Columbia, S.C., and some of the bees got away, causing quite a stir. Broadbent managed to get most of the bees back home, though, before the long trip was over.
There are three levels of beekeepers. There are hobbyists, certified beekeepers (of which Broadbent is one) and master beekeepers, those folks who are most serious about the practice.
Larger commercial beekeepers often transport their hives on flatbed trucks from state to state to help farmers pollinate their crops during different seasons of the year, Broadbent said.
Broadbent is definitely not one of the large beekeepers in this part of the state. Some beekeepers in Western North Carolina have 20 to 60 hives. But whether large or small, beekeepers get better results with more intensive management of their hives. One option is to replace the queen every couple of years, Broadbent said. This provides the hive with new genetics and more vigor, he said.
One thing has stayed constant through the years. Honey is the same good, natural food that it has always been.
In most North Carolina counties, beekeeping is mostly a hobby proposition, because the state does not have the abundance of honey plants or the intensity of honey flows that would make commercial beekeeping possible. There are a couple of commercial operations in Buncombe County, but none in Henderson or Transylvania counties,
Owings is knowledgeable about bees and participates in the annual training program. While he's encouraged about the continuing interest shown in beekeeping, he's worried about the future health of the industry.
He's an expert in apple production, long a mainstay in Henderson County, and knows how important bees are to fruit crops. "It would be terrible if the disorder reached this area," he said. "We have enough problems as it is."
Apple farmers are challenging by competition from other parts of the country, fickle weather, and increasing interest in development of rural land.
In any event, bees fascinate him. "Each hive is different. You'll never learn it all," he said. "It's fascinating to watch bees work."