Have you ever thought about becoming a beekeeper?
There's good reason to seriously consider this backyard pastime.
Bees pollinate our food crops, make honey for us and generally benefit the balance of nature, according to Pete Ostrowski, president of the local Colonial Beekeepers Association.
"Many people who start beekeeping just to get their own honey supply soon find out that the real advantage to keeping bees is that it connects you to the natural world in a very profound and immediate way," says the Gloucester resident.
"You learn to read the weather, and you become sensitive to the cycle of natural seasons. You will know when certain plants, trees, and shrubs bloom and bud, and how long many flowers and plants will bloom and provide nectar. You will be more aware of rainfall and fluctuations in temperature.
"Finally, you will become aware of how insects and plants cooperate together in the complex web of natural ecology."
To help you get started, Virginia and local beekeepers are offering some help.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services invites you to apply for funds – up to $200 per honeybee hive, not to exceed $2,400 per individual per year – from the new $125,000 Beehive Grant Fund. Grant requests and details are available at http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov; e-mail questions to VABees@vdacs.virginia.gov. The fund is subject to budget negotiations during the upcoming General Assembly session.
"We're encouraging the growth of hives because we've had a 30 percent decline in the number of hives over the past few hives," says Elaine Lidholm, department spokeswoman, who estimates there are now about 35,000 hives statewide.
Colonial Beekeepers will give free try-before-you-buy presentations at 11 a.m. Jan. 26 at the Tabb Library on Route 134 in York County, 2 p.m. Jan. 26 at the James City County Library at 7770 Croaker Road in James City County and at 11 a.m. March 26 at the Northampton Community Center at 1435 Todds Lane in Hampton.
Annual beekeeping classes, also free, will be held 6-9 p.m. March 28 and April 4, 11 and 18 and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. April 20 at the Northampton Community Center. Visit the group at http://www.colonialbeekeepers.com; the Virginia State Beekeepers Association at http://www.virginiabeekeepers.org is also helpful.
"Having bees in the backyard is no different than being responsible for any other animal, whether a pet cat or dog, or farm animals like chickens or horses," says Pete.
"They need basic care -- food, water, shelter, preventative health care, protection from the elements, each other, pests and diseases, vandals and any other unnecessary stress in their lives.
"Most beekeepers and their surrounding neighbors notice an increase in the pollination of garden plants and flowers in the area.
"When you keep bees you are taking a positive step for yourself and your community at large by helping bees pollinate flowers, plants, and even agricultural crops. In an era of declining bee populations and habitats, you can be a self-made hero by helping honey bees live in your area."
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