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BEEKEEPERS ENJOY A HONEY OF A HOBBY\ WHILE MOST FOLKS WOULD RUN FROM BEES, BEEKEEPERS DON'T FEAR STICKING THEIR HANDS IN A HIVE TO RETRIEVE THEIR HONEY.

BEEKEEPERS ENJOY A HONEY OF A HOBBY\ WHILE MOST FOLKS WOULD RUN FROM BEES, BEEKEEPERS DON'T FEAR STICKING THEIR HANDS IN A HIVE TO RETRIEVE THEIR HONEY.

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When surrounded by more than 150,000 bees, it's best not to move too fast.

Beekeeper Norman Faircloth, 64, looks like someone doing tai chi when he replaces a screen or removes the honey from one of the hives stacked near his house. Any quick or jarring motion, like someone swatting at them, or let's say, running away from them, could frighten his Italian honeybees.A frightened bee can quickly turn into an angry bee, which is not something Faircloth or anyone else wants.

``They'll sting you when they're mad,' Faircloth said. ``They'll go straight for your face. One got me on my bottom lip the other day.

``There's three things running through my mind when I'm working with them,' he said. ``Don't drop them. Don't drop them. Don't drop them. I don't want to make them mad.'

Faircloth is a member of a local beekeepers club - a group of about 65 people who work with bees.

``Well, I can't say that it's relaxing,' Faircloth said. ``I'm retired, so everything I do now is relaxing. I think it's interesting. I enjoy trying to help the little critters survive.'

Faircloth, a former GTCC instructor, started beekeeping by accident more than 13 years ago. His son, Brian, brought home what he thought was an empty bee hive and stuck it in the family's carport.

Brian, now 29, was always bringing something home, his dad said, such as the 50-year-old pickup or the old tractor that are parked at Brian's grandfather's house. So Faircloth and his wife, Judy, just left the hive where Brian placed it.

About three months later, when the weather started warming up, bees moved into the hive.

``None of us knew what to do with them except to stay away from them,' Faircloth said.

But instead of calling someone to haul off the hive, Faircloth decided that maybe having bees around his family wasn't a bad idea. After all, they would help pollinate the flowers and other plants. Plus they produced honey. The five hives he has now produce between 10 and 25 gallons of honey a year.

So, Faircloth enrolled in a beekeeping class at GTCC to learn how to care for them and what he needed to do to keep them healthy and around his house.

``It's fun and interesting,' he said.

Beekeeping is a growing hobby in North Carolina. Keepers can start with one hive and about $100 for the medicine to keep the bees healthy, Faircloth said. There are more than 10,000 beekeepers across the state, more than any other state, according to the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service. The honeybee is the official state insect.

Water is necessary to keep bees in one spot and near their hives. Beekeeping may not be a good idea for someone who lives near a neighbor with a swimming pool, said fellow beekeeper Emerson Heatherly, who lives in a High Point neighborhood. Heatherly, who has been a beekeeper for 15 years, keeps his hives at his mountain home. His wife, Betty, isn't comfortable around them.

``I've never been stung by his bees,' Betty Heatherly said. ``I don't get near them.'

At the Faircloth home, Judy Faircloth has gone down to the hives to watch her husband work with the bees, but most of her contact with them comes from the dishes she whips up with the honey.

``Our grandbabies go down there and they have never been stung,' she said.

Both Faircloth and Heatherly sell some of their honey. Sometimes they give it away. They both love to talk to newcomers about their hobby. But neither of them are too keen on working with the wax, except maybe chewing it every now and then for bubble gum.

``I tried making candles,' Heatherly said. ``It's a messy, hard process. I gave my equipment away.'

It's easier, Heatherly said, to stick his hand in a swarm of bees and remove the honey.\ \ Contact Cynthia Jeffries at 373-7318, or cjeffries@news-record.com

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