Odom of Manteo doesn’t belabor the metaphor, but he does seem to
appreciate the workings of democracy with honeybees more so than those
of his former colleagues in the North Carolina General Assembly.
a veteran beekeeper, Odom, who served 14 years in the state senate,
speaks in awe of the efficiency of the hive, its remarkable skill in
communicating and cooperating and the dedication and loyalty of its
swarm sometimes because the old queen has started to slow down,” he
explained during a recent interview on the back porch at his elegant
vintage house in Manteo. “They decide it’s time to start a new
home. But before they swarm and leave, they actually send scouts out to
find another home.”
the hive conducts a bee-version of a debate on the merits of each
scout’s finding and holds a yay-or-nay vote before agreeing to
all 40,000 to 80,000 of the hive’s bees swarm together to the new
locale, and proceed with business. Sure, sometimes it’s someone’s
condo or even an airplane cockpit, but it’ll be home until a beekeeper
gently persuades them to move into a nice bee box.
do not believe that there is any creature that God has put on the face
of the Earth that is more admirably beneficial or interesting than the
honey bee,” Odom said, as he looked into his verdant backyard ,
landscaped to provide privacy and a blooming and blossoming Eden-like
in his semi-retirement, Odom has kept his hands in the hive, so to
speak, of both bees and politics. In recent months, he has helped
found a new chapter of the N.C. Beekeepers’ Association
on the Outer Banks. He put himself at risk of getting stung by
different kinds of venom with his election in April as chairman of the
Dare County Democratic Party.
And he still maintains his law practice in Manteo and Charlotte.
an upbeat demeanor and lively vivid blue eyes, Odom, 76, says he got
interested in bees 45 years ago when he and his late wife, Jane – to
whom he was married 39 years -- started playing bridge with some
couples in their Charlotte neighborhood. One of the men was a
beekeeper, and Odom was intrigued by his stories about his bees.
long, Odom had his own hives and had learned the art of harvesting
honey and relocating swarming bees. Along the way, his brother
Jimmy got involved, and between the two of them, they’ve taken care of
15 to 25 hives. He was recently awarded Beekeeper of the Year by the
And 12 years ago, Odom married Carmen Hooker, the former director of the state health department.
But a lot has changed for the bees in the decades since Odom has been beekeeping. For one thing, there are less of them.
says he remembers avoiding patches of clover when he was a boy. “You
did not run through it because it would be full of bees,” he says.
“Today, you won’t find that. Almost all of the feral bees are
have warned for years that pollinators such as honey bees and their
cousin bumblebees are not thriving. In some places, massive deaths of
entire hives, known as “colony collapse,” is causing alarm.
Worldwide, about one-third of honeybee hives collapse, according to a July 14 article
by Mark Winston in The New York Times. Winston, a biologist at Simon
Fraser University in Vancouver, blamed a synergy of numerous pesticides
and various pests and diseases as well as nutritional deficits caused
by the lack of diverse pollinating flowers in single crop
from more than 120 pesticides, the article said, can be found in a
typical colony. “Alone, each represents a benign dose,” Winston
wrote. “But together they form a toxic soup of chemicals whose
interplay can substantially reduce the effectiveness of bees’ immune
systems, making them more susceptible to diseases.”
One widely-used pesticide, neonicotinoid,
is often named as a main culprit. But even if it was eliminated, it is
not going to solve the problem, said Adolphus Leonard, apiary inspector
with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in the northeastern counties of the state.
a former commercial beekeeper who now keeps about a dozen hives as a
hobbyist, said that “neonics” replaced worse pesticides, and if they
were banned, farmers would likely have to revert to more toxic
pesticides. And from what he has seen as an inspector, a mite
native to Asian bees has caused more trouble by shortening the lifespan
of the bees and weakening the colony.
are still a lot of questions that need to be answered on what is going
on with the bees. “We’ve had less pesticide bee kills in the last
10 years than we’ve ever had before,” Leonard said. “My cautionary tale
is: Don’t get ahead of the science.”
his observation, Leonard said the spate of “catastrophic cases” a few
years ago is becoming less common. “The bees in North Carolina look
better than they have in the past,” he said.
Carolina bees are shipped to California to pollinate almond trees,
Leonard said. When they’re done, they may be brought to another state,
or returned to North Carolina, to do their thing with another
plants, including trees, provide more diverse pollen, and consequently,
healthier bees, than mono-culture agricultural fields. For that reason,
Leonard said, North Carolina, with its large amount of wild areas, is a
good state for honeybees.
But there are still challenges.
Of 2,212 colonies reported in a 2013 survey by the Bee Informed Partnership of bees in the state, about 35 percent were lost in the winter, according to results posted on the website of the N.C. Beekeepers’ Association.
That’s not great, but it’s an improvement, said David Tarpy, professor of entomology at N.C. State University
and extension apiculturist. “We say we’ve gone from horrible to bad,”
he said. “We still have a ways to go until the bee hive populations are
Tarpy, who runs a bee research lab at the
university, said that North Carolina has about 15,000 beekeepers –
nearly all hobbyists. That’s the highest number of beekeepers per
capita in the country.
As the president of the Outer Banks Beekeepers’ Guild,
founded in February, Denise Deacon said she believes it is important
for people to appreciate the value of honeybees in pollinating plants.
Without them, the food supply would crash and there would be far fewer
flowers and trees.
has three hives in her sunny front yard in Kitty Hawk, where she enjoys
watching the bees do their magic on summer days. “They like
heat – the inside of the hive is 95 degrees,” she said.
Deacon is still new to bees – this is only her third year as a
beekeeper - she has not yet harvested honey from the hives. Her
first two hives were lost to mites, and the next year, one hive was
lost to wax moths. Those losses are part of the reason she reached out
to other beekeepers in the area, including Odom.
been just an enormous help in getting us going,” Deacon said. “He’s
been a great resource. He was very enthusiastic.”
There are already 26 members on the Outer Banks, she said, and even more on their e-mail list.
With help from Leonard and other beekeepers like Odom, Deacon said she is getting the hang of the art.
more I learn, the more astounded I am,” Deacon said. “I know there are
people who are deathly afraid of any stinging creature. But honeybees
are not aggressive. They defend their hive if they need to, but they’re
such sweet little creatures.”
colonies are 90 percent female worker bees, with a queen and a few
drones – whose only job is to mate with the queen. In the winter,
they survive by clustering together in a huge ball to keep warm.
their combs are a work of art, Odom said, pulling out his cell phone to
show a picture of them inside an exterior wall of his family’s Avery
the most beautiful yellow wax comb,” he said, pointing to the rows of
honey combs installed by the bees. “Those cells are all absolutely
perfect. They’re hexagons.”
Odom had a serious bout with cancer more than 20 years ago, he became
much more open to alternative health remedies and healthy living in
general. He is convinced pesticides are at the root of bees’
the chemicals that are being sprayed across the state,” he said. “You
think about it – 50 years ago there was not colony collapse. There were
wild bees and there was absolutely no spraying.”
Odom is impressed by the health benefits of bee propolis, a potent antioxidant from the wax, and bee venom therapy.
prompting a bee to sting a problem area, he explained, the venom can
spur the body to create its own form of cortisone. Odom said the
therapy cured him of severe arthritis in his ankle and knee. He is so
convinced it works, he took a course in Chicago to learn more about the
of course, there’s the honey. When it’s the right time, Odom will
travel to Charlotte and help his brother scrape the honey from the wax
combs in the hives and filter it into jars. The taste is exquisite, he
said, nothing like store-bought, which is often diluted.
Odom said he has been cancer-free and healthy for years, and the bees are helping him to stay that way.
don’t take any prescription medication,” he said. “I have a wife seven
years younger. I chase her -- and sometimes I catch her.”
From Backyard Beekeepers’ Association
are not native to the United States. They are European in origin, and
were brought to North America by the early settlers.
Honeybees are not aggressive by nature and will not sting unless protecting their hive from an intruder or are unduly provoked.
represent a highly organized society, with various bees having very
specific roles during their lifetime: nurses, guards, grocers,
housekeepers, construction workers, royal attendants, undertakers,
The queen bee can live for several years. Worker bees
live for six weeks during the busy summer and for 4-9 months during the
The practice of honey collection and beekeeping dates back to the stone age, as evidenced by cave paintings.
honeybee hive is perennial. Although quite inactive during the winter,
the honeybee survives the winter months by clustering for warmth. By
self-regulating the internal temperature of the cluster, the bees
maintain 93 degrees in the center of the winter cluster regardless of
the outside temperature.
Queen Bee: There is only one
queen per hive. The queen is the only bee with fully developed ovaries.
She can live for 3-5 years but mates only once with several male, or
drone, bees. The queen lays up to 2,000 eggs a day. Fertilized eggs
become female, or worker bees, and unfertilized eggs become male, or
drone bees. When she dies or becomes unproductive, the other bees will
"make" a new queen by selecting a young larva and feeding it a diet of
Worker Bee: All worker bees are female, but they
are not able to reproduce. Nearly all of the bees in a hive are worker
bees. A hive consists of 20,000-30,000 bees in the winter and over
60,000 in the summer. The worker bees sequentially take on a series of
specific chores during their lifetime: housekeeper; nursemaid;
construction worker; grocer; undertaker; guard; and finally, after 21
days they become a forager collecting pollen and nectar. The worker bee
has a barbed stinger that results in her death following stinging,
therefore, she can only sting once.
Drone Bee: These male bees are
kept on standby during the summer for mating with a virgin queen.
Because the drone has a barbed sex organ, mating is followed by death
of the drone. There are only 300-3,000 drones in a hive. The drone does
not have a stinger. Because they are of no use in the winter, drones
are expelled from the hive in the autumn.
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read other
stories about the North Carolina coast at www.nccoast.org.)
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