LOXLEY — They needed more bees.Brandon and Becka Hargraves were heavy in the throes of a homesteading lifestyle. They had chickens, goats, turkeys, fruit trees and a giant garden that would …
LOXLEY — They needed more bees.
Brandon and Becka Hargraves were heavy in the throes of a homesteading lifestyle. They had chickens, goats, turkeys, fruit trees and a giant garden that would nourish their growing family.
They didn't have enough bees to help pollinate their dreams.
They added flowering herbs and bushes. When they did, the bees didn't just come, they swarmed – inside the walls of their kitchen.
Not a great first meeting between the couple and the insects that would become their livelihood.
But the couple ferried the mass into a new home that would help both the bees and the family thrive.
"Once bees have their minds made up to move, they're going to stick to it," Becka said. "Since they picked our house, I thought it was a sign."
Now, a decade later, Becka is a certified Alabama master beekeeper and past president of Baldwin County Beekeepers Association. Brandon specializes in bee extractions and has served the association as well. Together they are B's bees and are quickly becoming the go-to place in the region for all things bee.
In early February B's bees will open a storefront in Loxley that specializes in bee keeping equipment, a sign of just how quickly the hobby is growing in Baldwin County.
It took nearly four years of Brandon balancing his side job extracting bees and his day job as a food broker before he could leave the corporate suit behind and don a bee suit fulltime.
Becka, once worked in dentistry and moved to homeschooling the pair's children, until "the bees took over," she said.
Inspired in part by her father who was a beekeeper and prolific gardener, Becka said she wanted to follow in his footsteps. Brandon said the simple joy of being outside and connecting with nature was enough to convince him to change careers.
"You get out there and start gardening and think, what else can I do to improve this and then you start getting into flowers and bees, it's just a natural progression," he said.
It's a way of life, he said, that more people have noticed since the quiet of the COVID-19 shutdowns.
"I think our generation, we've seen the full spectrum and realize there is more to this life than just chasing a paycheck," he said. "We were seeing things go by quickly.
"With Covid, people were home and were like, let's try to take control and move toward sustainability," he said.
That push has resulted in people needing to know more about bees.
B's bees was able to step in and offer classes, guidance, support, and now with the new storefront, locally made equipment. The pair have also been able to work with a local wood mill and carpenter to construct many of the bee boxes and other specialty equipment that jumped in price when the cost of wood skyrocketed in 2020.
As the hobby becomes more popular the pair can talk would-be beekeepers through managing their bee colonies through issues such as climate impacts and the spread of viruses that destroy bee populations.
They can also help you decide if you have the time and attention to commit to manage an entire community in your backyard.
Most importantly, however, they can tell you why anything that brings you closer to nature is worth doing.
"That's the biggest satisfaction for me," Brandon said. "I keep notes of the weather changing and when things are blooming. This has drawn me so close to nature and what's going on. It opens up our eyes as humans about how everything is connected to nature."
WHAT’S THE BUZZ?
According to the National Honey Board, there are roughly 115,000 – 125,000 beekeepers in the United States, where honey can be harvested in every single state. The vast majority of those beekeepers consider their hives a hobby and maintain less than 25 bee boxes.
In Baldwin County B’s bees in Loxley offers classes and consultations to the experienced and newbies alike. Here are their most frequently asked questions.
ARE THERE BEES ON THE GULF COAST?
Yes. They are fairly prolific especially since the region experiences mild winters.
WHERE DO BEES GO IN THE WINTER?
The same place humans do, they stay home. During freezing weather, they huddle up together inside the hive and eat honey. Bees generally won’t fly below 40 degrees.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO BECOME A BEEKEEPER?
B’s bees’ classes range from $30-45. Equipment in the first year of beekeeping is generally $600-800 for a small hobby operation. Becka Hargraves said the classes are very eye opening about both how much equipment and time is involved in the hobby. “I’ve had people come up to me after and thank me for the class because now they know they don’t want to do this hobby. It can be a lot.”
DO BEEKEEPERS GET STUNG A LOT?
Rarely, though new beekeepers are usually apprehensive, Becka said. The bees are not generally aggressive either. “There are a few guard bees at the hive and that is their job but the more you beekeep the better you become at it and the less you get stung,” she said.
DOES BEEKEEPING TAKE A LOT OF TIME?
CAN CHILDREN TAKE CLASSES?
Absolutely. There are no age limits.
DOES BEEKEEPING REQUIRE A CERTAIN PHYSICAL ABILITY?
The bee boxes do get heavy and that requires lifting. Also, the boxes are in the direct sun and that could limit some individual’s abilities to work on them during the hot months.
WHAT LOCATION DO I NEED FOR A BEE BOX?
You can have a bee box in your backyard, however, check with your homeowners’ association to make sure there are not covenants limiting or restricting beekeeping. Have a watersource in your yard such as a bird bath.
DO BEES NEED A LOT OF SPACE?
Bees will travel two to three miles beyond their hive to work. Still, having a water source available in your own yard is important. Becka said in summer months they have seen many neighbors argue after the bees make themselves comfortable in a neighbor’s pool.
DON’T LIKE INSECTS? THIS IS NOT THE HOBBY FOR YOU
“There is a plethora of other bugs that live in and around the colony plus spiders and snakes that eat bees. If you are out in nature and you can’t handle other bugs, this is not for you,” Becka said