Zipping up his white beekeeper suit, Greg Clements pressed his ear against the stacked wooden frames that made up one of his seven hives to assess the mood of the bees. To the common observer, the noise was a loud, nondescript buzz that one might expect 50,000 bees in a hive to make, but Clements explained that the nature of the hum allows him to tell whether the queen bee is healthy without even opening his hives. If the queen dies or leaves the hive, the bees become more agitated and aggressive which, to Clements’ trained ear, is discernible in the noise they produce.
Learning the language of the bees is just one of many skills Clements has developed since he began beekeeping in his backyard in Denver 17 years ago. A former president of the North Carolina Beekeepers Association and the founder of the Lincoln County Beekeepers Association, he teaches beekeeper courses in the area and has a real interest in the history of bees.
“It (beekeeping) gets you back to your roots,” Clements said, noting that bees have been around for millions of years and that honey has been found in old Egyptian tombs.
“Honey can last for 4,000 or 5,000 years, no problem,” Clements said and then laughed. “Mine doesn’t ever last that long.”
Clements specializes in creamed honey, adding flavors like cinnamon, chocolate and hazelnut, to the containers that he sells to friends and neighbors as well as at farmer’s markets.
He is not the only Lake Norman resident who has learned a lot about bees as a result of adopting beekeeping as a hobby.
“There is so much to beekeeping that people don’t know,” said David Little, the president of the Iredell County Beekeepers Association.
Little has about 50 hives himself but also spends many hours mentoring fellow beekeepers.
“There are three types of people: bee-havers, bee-keepers and bee-managers,” Little said. “The biggest thing that I teach is to manage your hive.”
Mike Stephens is one of the beekeepers Little has helped. Stephens started beekeeping about four years ago on his 31-acre farm in Mooresville and currently has 13 hives. He explained that beekeeping is more than just giving bees a place to stay and harvesting their honey. Beekeepers have to spend many hours treating hives for pests and trying to prevent bees from swarming.
Huntersville beekeeper, Alison Nichols, started beekeeping with her neighbor, Sheri Rosen, in 2011, and said that it took two or three seasons to learn how to manage her hives well. In particular, she said she had to figure out how much honey she could collect while still leaving the bees enough to sustain themselves through the winter.
“I never take off more honey than I can safely take,” Nichols said. “You get into the rhythm of how they (the bees) live.”
Nichols now keeps one hive in Rosen’s backyard and has an additional 12 hives at her mom’s house up in the mountains near Wilkesboro.
Despite multiple years of experience, all four beekeepers advised there is always more they can learn, and that hive’s require continual adjustments to meet the bees’ needs.
“No matter how much you learn, you never know what they are going to do,” Nichols said about her bees. “As the human, you can’t control everything they do.”