Growing up, Jimmie Oakley put ants in a jar full of dirt and watched them build tunnels. “It was fascinating to see a colony of ants working together. When I learned about bees, I thought they were a whole lot more interesting.”
As scholarship program chair for the Williamson County Area Beekeepers Association, Jimmie says, “Consider the hive as a super organism—each bee could be considered a cell. Each cell carries oxygen, nutrition, and waste, and each has a responsibility. Some gather water to cool the hive, others gather pollen to feed baby bees, nectar to turn into honey, or propolis—a plant antibiotic—to disinfect and seal the hive. What they all have in common is an allegiance to protect, maintain, and reproduce the hive.”
A similar love of beekeeping and commitment to pass it on to a new generation of beekeepers are what drive the Wilco Area Beekeepers Association. Formed in 1980 at the urging of Bill Victor of Hutto, a former state bee inspector, the group works to educate beekeepers and community members through presentations at schools, fairs, and a youth scholarship program. At first, about 15 beekeepers gathered in an upstairs room at the bank in Taylor. Today, 140 meet virtually or at the library to learn and share beekeeping expertise.
A HOBBY FOR ANY AGE
While beekeeping is something you can do on your own, beginners are encouraged to attend club meetings and Beekeeping 101 sessions, as well as sign up for a mentorship program. Targeting younger apiary enthusiasts, Jimmy laughs that the scholarship program was launched after members realized “all we have here are old beekeepers.” The program has drawn nearly 150 students over the last 36 years and awards three or four scholarships annually to students 12 to 18 years old. Each receives a hive, bees, and equipment to complete the year-long project. Jimmie says it is a great family project that often extends beyond the project timeline. “When the kids go off to college, they leave the bees with their parents, some of whom have continued to keep them for years.”
While not every participant will become a beekeeper, all learn the value of bees and how important they are to the environment and food production process. And “every once in a while, one pops up and sticks with it,” Jimmie says. One scholarship recipient was even inspired to major in wildlife biology.
In 2018, the club partnered with the city to provide bees for pollination at the Heritage Community Garden and the gardeners shared great appreciation for better developed and tastier fruits and vegetables. Partnering with the city was a win-win, Jimmie says. In addition to pollinating the garden and establishing another prime location to set bees, it created a teaching yard for the youth scholarship program.
The Wilco Area Beekeepers Association will be at the Hill Country Arts & Crafts Fair in Sun City November 5-6. Members will be selling honey to fund the scholarship program while educating the public on all things bees.
Click the link to join the Williamson County Area Beekeepers Association, or to submit a scholarship application (available January to February).
- Bees are the only insects in the world that make food people eat.
- Honey contains all the substances needed to sustain life; enzymes, water, minerals, and vitamins.
- One bee will only make 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its entire life.
- To make 1 lb of honey, bees fly more than 55,000 miles and visit 2 million flowers.
- A colony can contain 20,000-60,000 bees, but only 1 queen.
- A bee’s wings beat 190 times a second—11,400 times a minute—creating the “buzz” you hear.
- Worker bees are female and are the only ones that can sting. They do so only if they feel threatened and then they die.
- It would take 1,100 bee stings to produce enough venom to be fatal to a non-allergic person.
- Each colony smells different to bees (the queen scent), so they can tell where they live.
- Honey bees fly up to 15 miles per hour and they never sleep.
- The queen bee can lay 1,500 eggs a day. She is constantly fed and groomed by attendant bees.
- Bees have two stomachs—one for food and another just for the nectar they carry back to the hive.
- Honey has natural preservatives so that it won’t spoil. It is antimicrobial and antibacterial.
- Honey bees are responsible for pollinating approximately 80 percent of all fruit, vegetable, and seed crops in the U.S.
- Beekeepers only take the honey the bees do not need. This can be as much as 100 lbs from one hive.
- There are many flavors of honey, which tastes different depending on the flowers used.