Eastern Kentucky PRIDE

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McCreary County students rob their first bee hive

Members of the McCreary County 4-H Bee Club put the fume board in place while preparing to rob their first hive on July 17, 2017. Photo by the McCreary County Cooperative Extension Office.

On July 17, the McCreary County 4-H Bee Club robbed its first bee hive, extracted the honey and began processing it for jars.

The club has six members, ranging in age from 12 to 16 years old. Under the direction of McCreary County Cooperative Extension Agent Greg Whitis, the club established two hives this spring at Old Smithtown School. Whitis thanked volunteers from the Big South Fork Beekeepers who helped construct the hives and educate the students.

Using Whitis’ personal hives, the students have practiced harvesting honey, but today was the first time they robbed the club’s hives.

Whitis started the club last fall when several local students expressed interest in beekeeping. The club is giving them hands-on experience so they are prepared to start their own hives, if they decide to do so.

“This program is educating our next generation of beekeepers,” Whitis said.

“By joining the 4-H Bee Club, students can figure out if they are serious enough to invest in their own hive, which can cost $500 or $600,” he explained. “For students who go through this program and decide they want to start hives at home, my goal is to help reduce their start-up cost by arranging for local beekeepers to donate their first bees.”

Success! The first honey appears from the extractor. Photo by the McCreary County Cooperative Extension Office.

Club members have tackled all aspects of beekeeping. They built the hives and added the bees. They monitor the health of the hives. They have robbed hives, extracted the honey and processed it. They wear protective gear when working near the hives.

“They got a real education when they discovered one hive, the one that had been the strongest, had swarmed and lost its queen,” Whitis said. “As soon as we opened the hive, the kids knew something was wrong. We just didn’t have numbers that we did before. We had to diagnose the problem. We had to replace the queen and start over with that hive. They had to do math to know how long it would take for that hive to produce honey. They determined it is about six weeks behind the hive we robbed today.”

“When they begin selling their honey, we will work on marketing skills,” he said. “I think some of them will want to design their own labels, too, because they are artistic. We will work on accounting skills when they start using the club’s money to buy supplies.”

The club’s goal is to fund itself through honey sales. Whitis expects the hives to start producing enough honey regularly by next spring.

To start the club, Whitis bought the hives, supplies and protective suits with $1,000 through the PRIDE Environmental Education Grant program and $500 through the 4-H Ag Achievers Grant program. Grow Appalachia donated the bees, valued at approximately $300.

“Greg has come up with several exciting projects with his PRIDE grants over the years, such as his annual environmental education camp at Feltner, and we always enjoy working with his students,” said Tammie Wilson of PRIDE, who observed the club at work on July 17. “Beekeeping is growing in popularity, and bees are so important to a healthy environment, so it is a great idea to give students a chance to develop these skills.”

“We would be happy use PRIDE grants to help more extension offices, conservation districts and schools follow Greg’s lead,” Wilson added. “In fact, he is helping us make a beekeeping start-up guide for our grant applicants.”

Environmental educators who want to set up a beekeeping program may apply by Sept. 15, 2017, for a PRIDE Environmental Education Grant for up to $2,750. To learn more about the grants, call the PRIDE office in Somerset at 888-577-4339 (toll free) or visit www.kypride.org.

McCreary County students who want to join the 4-H Bee Club, or community members who want to learn how to become beekeepers, should visit or call Whitis at the McCreary County Cooperative Extension Office. It is located at the McCreary Center of Somerset Community College in Whitley City, and the phone number is 606-376-2524.

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