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The Daily Tar Heel

Residents swarm to beekeeping class

Master Beekeeper Randall Austin leads a beekeeping class for beginners Tuesday in Hillsborough.

Master Beekeeper Randall Austin leads a beekeeping class for beginners Tuesday in Hillsborough.

Years ago, when Master Beekeeper Randall Austin’s garden struggled, his friend suggested keeping honeybees to pollinate the plants. Austin said he dismissed the idea because he did not want to get stung.

In 2005, Austin said he talked himself into getting bees and got involved with the Orange County Beekeepers Association.

He now leads beekeeping classes for beginners on Tuesday nights in Hillsborough.

Tuesday’s class was the second of nine, so Austin discussed the equipment needed to start a hive and explained how to put one together.

The course also offers two field days: one to assemble equipment and one in the bee yard.

To begin, Austin demonstrated how to wear a veil to protect the face and neck from getting stung.

He said participants could purchase full bee suits if they wanted, but said honeybees do not usually try to sting the torso or the legs.

“I only keep sweet bees,” Austin said. “I have had bees that have sold their souls to the devil, so I have had to use a full suit.”

Austin showed the class how to assemble a hive, which began with a base at least 14 inches tall, to protect the bees from skunks.

“(The skunks) eat them like popcorn,” he said.

After that, Austin placed two deep boxes which contained 10 frames each on top of the base. Rectangular foundations fit into the frames and the bees build honeycomb off of the foundations.

Austin said the window of opportunity to place foundations into the boxes is between April and May, two very active months for bees. He warned against waiting until July.

“(The bees) will laugh at you,” Austin said. “You don’t know humiliation until you’ve been laughed at by bees.”

Austin also went over how to feed the bees and paint the surfaces of the hive so that it does not overheat.

Though the majority of the class was made up of beginners, a few seasoned beekeepers attended as well.

“I garden and I need good pollinators for growing good vegetables,” Lisa Vogel, a beginner participant, said. “I’m also doing this because I want honey.”

Cynthia Speed, an experienced “journeyman beekeeper,” said she first got involved with the class when she heard about colony collapse disorder. Speed has had bees for three years.

“This will be the third year I’ve sat through the class; they’re wonderful,” Speed said. “It is so cool, it’s fascinating.”


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