Pay it Forward

Beekeepers’ maintain tradition, offer education

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Amy Kirkpatrick

When Macon County residents think of their grandparents’ homes, many recall the hives kept out behind the main house. Beekeeping was part and parcel of rural mountain homesteads, and the sweet honey the bees produced added a flavorful touch to Sunday breakfasts and many dinners. 

Beekeeping declined in the region in the late 20th century due to a variety of factors. Some residents battled through these changes and kept the cultural tradition alive. Local beekeepers adopted new techniques, such as treating hives with oxalic acid during winter months to “fight the mites” and building up new colonies of honeybees. 

Beekeeping in Macon County is now growing again on a yearly basis, with more residents engaged each year, including a number who have found it to be a lucrative business.

And where did many of these beekeepers go to seek out advice, learn new techniques, and share information to increase production? Their best and most local resource has been the Macon County Beekeepers Association.

Founded in 1980, the Association brings together longstanding beekeepers and “new-bees” for a mix of education, problem-solving discussions, and outreach events throughout the year. Serving as a chapter of the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association, the Macon County Beekeepers Association meets monthly at the Macon County Cooperative Extension. Expert speakers cover topics as diverse as hive inspections to finding the best molds for candle-pouring to the therapeutic uses of pollen and beeswax.  

MACON COUNTY Beekeeping Association offers much to the community in the way of hands-on education, resources, support, mentoring, and more.

Eddie Moses, the association’s president, credits the Bee Club, as it is informally known, for the fast growth of his beekeeping business. 

“I started my beekeeping journey in May 2021 with one colony and it has expanded to 23 [colonies] as of now. My first year was a year of learning. Through my mentor, Katie Wall, I gained a great deal of bee knowledge in a very short time. Larry Cooper, another association member who runs River Birch Bees, was instrumental in my success as well.”

Moses notes that the association’s ability to pair new beekeepers with more experienced hands, such as Wall and Cooper, is one of the perks of joining the group.

“My first-year honey production allowed for only 30 pounds of honey, but this past season in 2023, my girls and I produced, bottled, and sold upwards of 1,100 pounds of honey,” said Moses.

At a recent meeting, Beekeeper Jessie Robinson from Blue Ridge Honey Company in Lakemont, Ga., shared his knowledge with those in attendance.

The fast rise of Moses’s business and his support of other members to pay it forward led to him being named the association’s “Beekeeper of the Year” in 2023.

Association members also provide mentoring and education to young people in the community. Wall describes how this program has developed.

 “Three years ago, Larry Cooper and I got together with Tammara Talley, the 4-H Youth Development Agent at the 4-H Extension Office, with a goal of introducing kids to beekeeping, not only [to be conducted] as a hobby, but an agricultural commodity, with pollination a must-have for 85% of our food crops. We have graduated four future beekeepers, so far.”

Wall should know what she is talking about. Honey from her Pure Honey line of products won a blue ribbon at the Macon County Fair last year.

For those new to beekeeping or simply interested in honing their skills, the Association will be offering the second part of its annual “Beekeeping 101” class on March 2, along with a practical field day. For $75, participants will receive two full days of instruction on best practices for beekeeping, a beekeeping manual, information on North Carolina requirements for honey production, and guidelines on use of integrated pest management, along with snacks and giveaways of essential tools of the trade. Registration is required. Email [email protected] for more information.

The Macon County Beekeepers Association meets on the first Thursday of each month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Macon County Cooperative Extension Office, 193 Thomas Heights Rd, Franklin. Household membership in the Association is $10 per year.

Amy Kirkpatrick is a member of the Macon County Beekeepers Association.