Ask 10 beekeepers a question, get 12 answers

Published 11:25 am Wednesday, April 19, 2023

By Harold Brummett

Denmark Star Route

A note came from James Shannon of the Pontotoc County Extension service that there would be a Beekeeping meeting. It is good to keep in contact with the surrounding Mississippi State Extension service offices. 

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Joe Zook’s farm in Randolph was where the beginning beekeeping class met for hands-on class and demonstration. The speakers were Ronnie Owen and Joe Zook. While not a beginning beekeeper (my grandmother and father kept bees) I found the topics were interesting and the advice practical.

A story told to the amusement of the assembled was the admission of one of the leading beekeeping authorities in the country that he studied bees and did not keep them. 

Mr. Owen said the books and beekeeping journals were good to know and read but the real education for a beekeeper was practical experience and a successful mentor. 

“Remember,” Mr. Owen said, “The bees haven’t read the books and have no obligation to follow the advice of experts.” 

The assembled numbered around 75 men, women, and whole families. The designated parking area quickly filled with on time and latecomers parking alongside the driveway and road. 

The day was cool and rainy and the barn filled to standing room only. Mr. Zook is Amish and at his request, no photos of himself or others of his order were taken. A photo of the hives and equipment was allowed as long as the Amish were given notice to move out of the photo. 

The topics covered included starting bees, splitting hives, care and maintenance of new and existing hives. Also covered was how to deal with common pests. This included everything from wax moths, hive beetles, mites and mice. The questions came from beginners as well as old hands at beekeeping. 

Mr. Owen stated the advice he gave was what worked best for him and that Mr. Zook might have a different way of handling a particular situation. Both beekeepers agreed that while they frequently worked together, sometimes their solutions were different. 

Mr. Owen remarked that when you asked 10 beekeepers about their opinion on a beekeeping problem expect 12 to 14 opinions. 

Mr. Owen indicated that while dealing with upward of 60,000 individual bees in a strong hive you are dealing with a single collective intelligence. Each hive has a different personality. 

We need beekeepers to keep the pollinators out there helping make crops and produce our food. Mr. Owen said to realize that bees are not native to North America and neither are the pests that attack them. 

Taking on a hive of bees is like any other animal on the farm and once you take the responsibility then it is up to you to ensure the animal has everything it needs to be successful and healthy. 

Mr. Zook raises queens, nucs (starter hives) as well as making hives and beekeeping equipment  on his farm. Mr. Zook keeps around 250 hives. Mr. Owen keeps about 50 hives. Mr. Zook and Mr. Owens both sell queens, nucs and complete hives. 

It was a fun, cool Saturday, a great place to be(e) and the homemade cookies and popcorn was an added treat. 

Write to Harold Brummett at