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Bee school ready to take flight

DOBSON — When some people think of bees, an image of fresh honey dripping onto a hot buttery biscuit comes to mind, yet there is another aspect of them which is vital to food production in general.

“There are a lot of fruits and vegetables that really depend on pollination, and people are realizing it,” veteran beekeeper Paul Madren of Mount Airy said Thursday in discussing an upcoming course designed to get more folks involved in that craft.

The Surry County Bee School 2020, geared toward novice beekeepers, is scheduled to begin Monday and continue five Mondays after that through March 9. It will be held at the N.C. Cooperative Extension office in Dobson, located at 915 E. Atkins St., Suite 300.

That program was launched by Madren in 2005.

“I usually assist with the school and I taught the school for several years,” added the longtime beekeeper, who is now in his late 80s and has passed the reins over to a younger generation, although Madren still is involved.

The annual bee school is sponsored by the Surry County Beekeepers Association, with which Madren serves a leadership role, in addition to being an officer of the state beekeeping organization in the past.

Greg Ferris is the present instructor for the class, which will meet from 7 to 9 p.m. on the six Mondays involved. The school further will include a field day and a Saturday equipment workshop, for which dates are to be announced.

“He is the state bee inspector for this area and does a great job in teaching it,” Madren said of Ferris, who also is well-versed on pesticide issues that have negatively impacted the honeybee population in recent years.

“We have anywhere from 50 to 65 students,” Madren said of the bee school, which has attracted as many as 80.

Its cost is $25 per person, not including a book used in the class, “The Beekeepers Handbook,” fourth edition, by Diana Sammataro. It is available for $20.

Refreshments will be provided, with a door prize also to be given away each day the school is held. Additionally planned is an end-of-class drawing for a $75 gift card to Blue Ridge Bee Supply and a complete five-frame hive (excluding bees).

To register for the school, interested persons can call the county extension office at 336-401-8025.

Things looking up

After a steep decline in the U.S. honeybee population — including almost 40% last winter alone — Madren believes the state of bees is on the upswing.

“It’s improving,” he said Thursday.

“Everybody is becoming well aware of the necessity of bees in the pollination (process).” This has been accompanied by many towns and cities designating themselves as bee sanctuaries, including Mount Airy, where multiple clubs launched a high-profile pollination garden on public property in front of the Municipal Building.

As it moves from one flowering plant to another in search of nectar, the bee is dusted with pollen and unwittingly spreads it to the female parts of other flowers, which are fertilized as a result. Only fertilized plants can make fruit and seeds, and without pollination plants cannot reproduce.

The rejuvenation of bee populations has been accompanied, and perhaps fueled, by an increased interest among the public in grow-your-own vegetable and fruit operations, and particularly organic gardening that avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Still, pesticides are an ongoing problem due to reasons including people not following instructions for their use, Madren says.

He is heartened by the fact that along with greater awareness of the need to boost pollination efforts, interest in the annual school is partly driven by students being motivated to protect what could be considered a threatened species.

Madren offered an anecdotal tidbit to suggest that the bee numbers are still not quite there yet despite some positive developments:

“Getting stung in the clover,” he said of what once was a real threat to anyone walking barefoot in their yards due to heavy concentrations of honeybees among the blossoms.

“And they don’t see it anymore,” Madren mused.

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Veteran beekeeper Paul Madren, pictured in a pollination garden in Mount Airy last summer, is encouraging participation by the public in the Surry County Bee School 2020. beekeeper Paul Madren, pictured in a pollination garden in Mount Airy last summer, is encouraging participation by the public in the Surry County Bee School 2020. Tom Joyce | The News

By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.



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