Concern about the plight of the honeybee has sparked a surge of interest in backyard beekeeping in Northern Virginia.
Interest is so high that two local beekeeping clubs say they are being stretched to keep up with the demand. Introductory beekeeping classes offered in Loudoun and Prince William counties fill up quickly every year, and waiting lists carry over from one year to the next, beekeepers in both counties said.
“Backyard beekeeping is extremely popular and on the rise,” said Louise Edsall, a member of the Prince William Regional Beekeepers Association. “I meet people every day who say, ‘I want to do this.’
“They know the bees are in danger, and they want to do their part,” she said.
Edsall, who lives near Manassas, said that the Prince William club began having a surge of applicants for its classes five or six years ago.
“We fill up before we even advertise,” she said. One year, about 100 people showed up for an open house promoting a class that had only 25 slots. Class members are assigned a mentor to help them during their first year of beekeeping, so the class size is limited by the number of available mentors, Edsall said.
The Loudoun Beekeepers Association, which brings in 60 new beekeepers a year, also assigns mentors to families and individuals who take the eight-week Introduction to Beekeeping course, said Britt Thomas, association president.
Members of both clubs credit the growing interest in beekeeping to reports of significant declines in the worldwide population of honeybees that started about 2007. The reports attributed massive die-offs of honeybees to “colony collapse disorder,” a phenomenon that is still not fully understood, club members said.
Matt Gaillardetz, a former president of the Loudoun Beekeepers Association, said that honeybees, as pollinators, play a critical role in agriculture and the environment as a whole.
“When bees are disappearing, there’s certainly a great amount of concern,” Gaillardetz said. In addition to colony collapse disorder, the honeybee population is also threatened by varroa mites and chemicals in fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, he said.
Thomas said a healthy colony typically has 40,000 to 60,000 honeybees. Unless the hive is closed, the bees are free to forage and pollinate, and they can travel up to five miles. “They have an amazing homing sense,” he said.
Thomas, of Purcellville, said he got started four years ago with two colonies of bees. This year, he will have close to 40 colonies.
“I got into it because it was doing something right for nature. It’s kind of like this win-win-win thing,” he said, noting that one of the “wins” for successful beekeeping is a crop of fresh honey.
The prospect of harvesting raw honey also appealed to Jennifer Del Grande of Purcellville, who attended a field day for beginning beekeepers in Loudoun on Saturday.
“I have three kids, and I thought it would be a great way to help with seasonal allergies,” Del Grande said, citing reports that raw honey can help with allergies. “They love honey, and it’s a wonderful way to help the bees.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.