PEMBROKE — The road to Dennis Clark’s bee yard isn’t paved. It veers off from his gravel driveway and resembles a mowed path of grass, dotted with destroyed ant farms.
The buzz in the distance explains the reason for the walk.
Clark has 20 bee colonies at his home on Union Chapel Road, where a sign reads “local honey for sale.” Clothed from waist-up in a white suit with a protective screen covering his face, he carefully removes a lid to one of the hives, and tells a story about the shelf-life of honey.
“Honey was found in a pharaoh’s tomb in Egypt and it was 2,500 years old,” he said, referring to honey found inside the tomb of King Tutankhamun, the pharaoh popularly referred to as King Tut, who ruled in the 18th dynasty.
“It was still good,” he said. “Because honey never goes bad.”
Clark, a member of the Robeson County Area Beekeepers, is one of several bee enthusiasts who attended a recent meeting of the State Beekeepers Association at Robeson Community College. The three-day event provided speakers and workshops detailing an array of beekeeping topics, including presentations on honeybee biology, colony functions, equipment and honey collection. People from all over the country came to Lumberton to talk bees and their benefits.
According to Mark Ward, a keeper from Shannon, beekeeping is responsible for increased yield in his garden.
“I put my bees right in front of my garden, because if you don’t have bees, you don’t have anything. My apple trees are loaded — squash, cucumbers. I have an abundance of fruit and vegetables because of the bees,” Ward said.
As Clark walks around his bee yard, he explains how he uses the bees for pollination, detailing the increased soybean production that resulted. The honey that he bottles with his wife, Linda, is just a byproduct of that effort, and the two sell it to customers who mostly use the sweet stuff for medicinal purposes.
“What happens is in your local area, the bees pollinate and collect pollen from all the different things that give you allergies,” he said, “and when you ingest them, they in turn build up antibodies, similar to what happens with a smallpox shot.”
The sweet concoction is the result of a busy worker bee, which makes on average a little more than one teaspoon of honey during its lifespan — about six weeks. Clark expects 35 gallons of the nectar by the spring, the work of more than 27,000 bees.
In fact, the work of honey bees accounts for one third of every bite of food people consume, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. In the same report, the council says that in the United States alone, more than 25 percent of the managed honey bee population has disappeared since 1990.
Clark said that in addition to insecticides, mites and beetles are the cause of the problem.
Timmy Jacobs, who works with bees as part of RCC’s Greenzone, a greenhouse that teaches students about sustainability, said that mites can cause big damage to a colony, leaving the bees’ wings injured.
“When we suspect mites, we sprinkle the hive in powdered sugar,” Jacobs said. He said that the sugar sends the bees into a cleaning frenzy, ridding the hive of the mites.
Other bees have been genetically altered to resist disease, and Clark keeps some on his farm. They’re called Minnesota Hygienics, and they’re one of a few types he keeps.
Holding up a piece of hive, Clark, who said he’s been stung more times than he can count, points out how the bees stay close by, barely swarming at all, and said that you can tell the type of bee by its temperament.
“Learning from the bees, you learn their moods,” he said of the insects named after their origin. “If you have Italians, Minnesota Hygienics, or if you have Germans. Italians are really calm. German bees are mean. And then the Russians and the Minnesota Hygienics, fall somewhere between those two.”
According Clark’s wife Linda, who is a member of the Robeson County Master Gardeners club, the hobby is expensive — more than $2,000 a year.
“But it pays for itself,” she said — in more ways than one.
Pouring the sweet nectar out of the vat where he stores it, Clark answers the question as to what he’ll do with any excess honey not sold this season.
“There is no excess,” he says with a grin. “It never goes bad.”