Bees in season for local beekeepers

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans

There is a buzz surrounding the bee hives that Tara Beekeepers Association President Gary Cooke keeps behind his Stockbridge home.

It is unavoidable -- especially when Cooke takes the cover off one of the hives and the little worker bees come into the light.

That buzz is going to become even more noticeable as spring moves in, and the temperatures warm up, and the nectar of flowers begins to beckon the bees out of their hives. It is when queen bees also begin laying eggs, since there is an abundant food supply, according to Cooke.

"[Spring brings] nectar, new plants and new flowers," Cooke said. "That's their food."

Southern Crescent residents, who have an interest in bees have a place to go to explore their interest -- the Tara Beekeepers Association. The group, which was founded in 1983, meets the third Monday of every month at the Kiwanis Club, located at 752 Main Street, in Forest Park. According to Cooke, anyone who has an interest in bees, even if they are not a beekeeper themselves, is allowed to join.

The group is largely made up of beekeepers from Clayton, Henry and Fayette counties, the organization's president said. He added that it had over 160 members last year. Membership is only $20, he said.

Forest Park resident, P.N. Williams, a founding member of the Tara Beekeepers Association, said one of the joys of being a beekeeper is that it gives a person a glimpse into another society. He and his wife, Evelyn, have been beekeepers for more than 40 years.

"It's a chance to observe a society that is so far ahead of you and I, that it makes us look antiquated," he said. "They are a very, very unique species."

Cooke said each hive has only one queen bee, who is the largest bee in the hive. The queen is the mother of the other bees in the hive. The fertilized eggs she lays become the female worker bees, the smallest, and hardest working bees in the hives. The unfertilized eggs laid by the queen become the male drone bees, whose only job is to impregnate the queen and die, according to Cooke.

The one kind of bee the queen does not like to see enter her hive is another queen bee, Cooke said. "She'll kill it with her stinger," he said.

The queen is also very particular about what times of year she will lay new eggs, according to the Tara Beekeepers Association president. She is less likely to lay eggs during times of the year when flowers are not producing nectar, like the winter months. Bees store up honey to get themselves through the winter months, Cooke said.

"When she senses there is nectar, she starts laying eggs, but in the winter, she lays very little eggs," Cooke said. "She senses the more mouths there are, the less there is to eat."

As the worker bees collect nectar, they begin to regurgitate it into the mouth of another worker bee, who returns the favor. Each time they pass the nectar between one another, Cooke said, they add enzymes which mix with the nectar to eventually make honey.

And that, according to P.N. Williams, is when a beekeeper becomes a player, and an extractor who flings the honey off the combs for collection. The bees, he said, are, of course, brushed off before this happens.

"They [the bees] are so generous, they make more honey than they'll need, and that's when the beekeeper comes in," Williams said. "We are able to take some of the supply off their hands."

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