Honey is usually harvested in late June or early July, so spring and early summer are busy times for local beekeepers.

The Rockingham County Beekeepers Association normally provides a wealth of information and resources to help. With the coronavirus pandemic preventing the organization from holding its usual monthly in-person meetings, the association has had to be creative and take extra steps to make sure vital help is still readily available.

“We must inspect each colony to be sure the bees survived the winter, the queen is present and laying eggs, food is sufficient and address many other issues, and colonies are checked for mites, a parasite, and treatment is done after the honey harvest,” said June Strader, president of RCBA. “The importance to having a local organization like the Rockingham County Beekeepers Association is paramount to being a successful beekeeper.”

The Rockingham Beekeepers Association was revived in the late 1980s, after not being active for several years, under the leadership of Judge Pierce, retired long-time agricultural extension agent for Rockingham County, and local beekeeper Lenzie Kinyon. The association, which is open to anyone interested in beekeeping, has 70 members, including a few who reside outside Rockingham County.

The association, which normally meets once a month, provides an educational resource and experience sharing among beekeepers. An educational session, often with visiting presenters, is held at each monthly meeting.

Because the pandemic prevents in-person meetings, Kinyon provides each member with a newsletter detailing what is happening with the bees each month and what beekeepers need to be doing to help them. In addition, the RCBA assigns a mentor to new beekeepers who are members, and through funding from the local Farm Bureau, offers financial assistance in replacing lost hives. The club also owns extracting equipment that members may borrow to extract their honey.

“We have a network for email communications, and we have received many requests for assistance with removal of bees while we have not been holding monthly meetings,” Strader said.

The association is also offering “Dial a Beekeeper,” manned by Kinyon or Jeremy Tyson, during the COVID-19 crisis to answer questions. The North Carolina State Beekeepers Association, as well as the Lawrence County Extension and Auburn University in Alabama and Bee Informed Partnership, offer educational webinars.

“The knowledge and experience of others cannot be reduced to a textbook,” Strader said.

A beekeeper for four years, Strader decided to try her hand at keeping bees after she retired. She has three colonies at her home in Reidsville, as well as two colonies at another location.

“I cannot overstate the knowledge I have gained by being a member of the association,” she said.

While he was in high school in the early 1960s, Kinyon began keeping bees in Oregon with his father and started keeping bees in Rockingham County around 1980 when he purchased his first honeybees, hive boxes, protective suit, hive tool and smoker from Sears, Roebuck and Co.

“I thought it would be interesting to learn and work with such a unique insect, and I knew the bees would pollinate my garden and help it produce more,” he said. “And, of course, I wanted to enjoy the honey.”

His apiary is at his home between Eden and Stoneville, where he keeps around 12 regular (Langstroth) hives and one top-bar hive.

His wife, Jean Kinyon, began keeping bees with Kinyon shortly before the couple was married in 1988.

“My beekeeping suit was one of the first gifts he ever gave me,” she said with a chuckle. “From the time I saw those beautiful bees in Lenzie’s hives, I was hooked.”

She now serves as the association’s webmaster/treasurer and enjoys sharing her knowledge about honeybees, beekeeping, plants and best practices.

“It is also gives me an opportunity to educate non-beekeepers about how important bees are and what we can do to help them,” Jean Kinyon said.

In the past, the association has participated in local and state events, such as Honey Bee Awareness Day at Southern States, the Eden Agricultural Fair, the North Carolina State Fair, the Agricultural Fair sponsored by the Cooperative Extension Service, Natural Foods Weekend at the Betsy-Jeff Penn 4-H Educational Center, the Farmers’ Market in Reidsville and RiverFest in Eden, as well as given presentations to other beekeeping associations.

Looking to the future, Kinyon said his hope is for the association to continue to promote beekeeping and educate the public about the honeybee and its importance, especially in Rockingham County.

“We need to help the residents of our area, especially in the farming community, see what they can do to help the honeybee and then encourage them to take action: leave more forage for the bees; use pesticides judiciously, not spraying near bee hives, waiting until late evening to spray if necessary; do not spray on flowers; and never use powdered pesticides, such as Sevin. Even businesses could set aside small natural areas to help the bees and other pollinators.”

Jennifer Atkins Brown writes every other Sunday for this section. Contact her at jennifer.brown@greensboro.com.

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