MOUNT OLIVET — Honey collection is becoming a passion project for some Robertson County School students.
Students taking part in agricultural classes, taught by Frank Gifford, have the opportunity to learn how to take care of beehives during the school year.
According to Gifford, there are seven hives, with roughly 40,000-50,000 bees in each hive.
“We harvest the honey twice a year, usually,” Gifford said. “In the fall of the year, once the nectar flow is pretty much over, I take the honey supers off and I put feeders on to feed them sugar syrup to build them up for the winter. You never feed when you have honey supers on or you’ll get fake honey.”
According to Gifford, the bees population is normally higher during the summer, but will drop during the winter months when some die off.
“They’ve had all summer to populate,” he said. “But, in the winter months, you’ll see many of them die off. We’ve had these hives about four years. We started with two and now we have seven.”
Gifford said he has the hives for the students
“I try to get the classes as project-based as possible,” Gifford said. “I want to be broad and diverse. Every project we do interests a different group of kids.”
During the school year, the students complete almost every aspect of caring for the bees, except removing the honey supers, which Gifford typically does.
“It’s normally the juniors and seniors who deal with the hives. We go into them every three to four weeks and make sure the queen is healthy and laying eggs. Certain times if a good nectar flow is going, we’ll add more honey supers, because if the hive gets too congested, they’ll start swarming. You don’t want them to swarm. You want them to stay in the hive and producing honey for you. You need to suit the needs of the hives.”
Gifford said the students will complete the collection of honey and bottle it in the agriculture lab.
“We sell it in the community,” he said. “This year we had about 160-170 pounds and we listed it on our FFA Facebook page. It was sold out in a matter of hours, so there is good demand for it.”
When a student is handling a bee hive for the first time, Gifford said he always tries to make sure they know about the honey bee cycle.
“I try to explain to them about how the cycle of the honey bee works,” Gifford said. “I didn’t realize how complex beekeeping could be. Every hive kind of has a different attitude. I’ve been doing it for four or fives years and I’m learning more every day.”
Gifford also said it is best to collect in the afternoon when it is hot outside, because less bees are in the hive at that time.
“During the morning, especially when it’s a little cooler, there are more bees in the hive and they don’t really like to be disturbed,” he said.
Cody Hughes, a senior at RCS, said he has not only helped collect honey from the beehives, but he has also collected a hive.
“Normally, I help with the honey collection, but I’ve actually helped collect a hive of bees before,” he said. “We suited up and sprayed sugar water over a fence post to get the bees kind of side tracked. We took one of our hive boxes and swooped them in. We left the hive box overnight, so they could get used to going in and out. Most of them went in and would stay in. We were able to pick them up the next day.”
Hughes said when dealing with the hive boxes, the most important part to remember is putting on the beekeeping suit.
“You suit up, so you don’t get stung,” he said. “You go down over the hill and most of the time, we’re just checking that all of the bees are OK. Mr. Gifford normally has the supers pulled, because it could get dangerous if you don’t do it right.”
Hughes said he wanted to help with the beehives because it as something he had never had the chance to do previously.
“It’s not something I can do at the house and it’s interesting,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot by dealing with the bees. One of the most important things I’ve learned is patience. We harvest in June and it’s almost September and we haven’t had a second harvest yet, so we have to have patients. We normally harvest at the beginning of summer, in June, and again around the end of September or beginning of October, so long as there is enough honey to last them through the winter.”