Editor’s note: This is the debut of a new occasional feature in the CN+R. “The Optimistic Gardener,” by Chatham County’s Dolly R. Sickles, will feature the advice of an experienced gardener who’s been cultivating her green thumb for the last 25 years. Sickles is an avid practitioner of practical gardening learned through trial and error, and best practices gleaned from folks she meets in the community. The Optimistic Gardener was published in The Apex Herald from 2003 - 2007, and her blog Gardening Gloves appeared on WRAL.com from 2007 - 2009. She lives in Chatham County with her family; she’s a novelist and an adjunct instructor in CCCC’s Creative Writing Program.
Gardeners of the world, unite! According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the last spring frost date for 2020 was April 11, so we’re in the clear to get out in the dirt and start doing our thing. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener, a professional, or just starting out, this summer we’re going to take an everyday approach to gardening to learn new tips, best practices and heirloom tricks that make us all Optimistic Gardeners.
Let’s start with the busiest workers in the garden: honeybees. The world relies on honeybees for things like honey, pollen and beeswax, but it’s their work as crop pollinators that is perhaps the most important. The FDA says pollination is “vital to the approximately 250,000 species of flowering plants that depend on the transfer of pollen from flower anther to stigma to reproduce.” It’s mesmerizing to watch honeybees working, gathering pollen on their legs, and then carrying it back to the hive. That pollen drives the process that’s evolved into a well-oiled machine over millennia.
My friend Brian Flick has been keeping bees for years. When his family relocated to Pittsboro two years ago, he brought two hives with him. He’s since added a third and is a tireless champion of keeping hives healthy and thriving. In my book, that makes him a seasoned expert. My husband has been interested in keeping bees, so two weeks ago Brian helped him get started. Here’s what we learned.
“The most important thing to remember about keeping bees is that you’ll make mistakes,” Brian said. “But you learn from them. Education is a must — speak with local beekeepers. I wish I would have done more research and observed a local beekeeper before setting out on my own.
“Anyone can have bees,” he said, “but not everyone is a beekeeper.”
Brian recommends taking a beekeeping course before you get started. He took a course through White’s Bee College with N.C. Master Beekeeper Ray Hunt, but you might want to check out the beekeeping schools offered by the Chatham County Beekeepers’ Association.
“Another thing I’ve learned is to avoid the fluff in the beginning,” he told me “Not every piece of equipment is necessary to start out. All you really need are the basics—hive boxes, frames, and protective clothing.”
And, obviously, bees.
Brian took my husband to Apex Garden Supply to meet Jason Cirioli, who hooked him up with a good setup, the important and necessary accoutrements, and a healthy nuc colony (a new hive that’s already ready to grow).
Find a place that’s got plenty of sunlight, is protected from falling limbs and debris, and is easily accessible. Give them fresh water, like in a birdbath or water fountain, and make sure you dot in things like twigs, rocks or a sponge for them to grab onto if they fall into the water. Be diligent in protecting your honeybees. Tie down the hives or place something heavy on top to make sure they won’t tip over in inclement weather, or fall victim to hungry predators like raccoons, opossums or bears. Watch out for pests like verroa mites and hive beetles — if you think anything’s amiss, reach out to a local Master Beekeeper or the Chatham County Cooperative Extension office.
Brian’s lush honeybee garden is full of plants that have nectar, but he says the things that make them the happiest are “clover, goldenrod, tansy, lemon balm, white spirea, honeysuckle, and lavender.”
I’m super allergic to bees and wasps, but I’m happy we’ve got honeybees…and I’m even happier my husband is the beekeeper and I can observe from a (safe) distance. Each bee has a role, from queen to drone…there’s even a mortician. Hopefully next summer, sometime between the end of June to the end of July, we’ll have honey to harvest.
Are you a beekeeper? Do you have any best practices to share? Send ‘em in!
Email me at email@example.com.
For more information, check out:
• FDA | Helping Agriculture’s Helpful Honey Bees: www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/helping-agricultures-helpful-honey-bees
• USGS | Why are bees important: www.usgs.gov/faqs/why-are-bees-important?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products
• The Old Farmer’s Almanac | Beekeeping 101: www.almanac.com/news/home-health/bees#
• NC Cooperative Extension | Chatham County: https://chatham.ces.ncsu.edu/search-results/?q=honey+bees
• Wired Magazine | Pesticides Are Harming Bees in Literally Every Possible Way: www.wired.com/story/pesticides-are-harming-bees-in-literally-every-possible-way/
• EPA | Colony Collapse Disorder: www.epa.gov/pollinator-protection/colony-collapse-disorder • Jason Cirioll at Apex Garden Supply: https://gardensupplyco.com/hostahive
• Chatham County Beekeepers’ Association: www.chatham-beekeepers.org/beekeeping-events/beekeeping-school/
• Carolina Honeybees | Installing A Bee Colony: https://carolinahoneybees.com/install-a-nucleus-colony/
• Optimistic Gardener | Behind the Scenes: www.OptimisticGardener.com
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