Beekeeping in Robertson County

Interview with Edison Guthrie. August 2008

The Robertson County Master Gardner group is fortunate to have several beekeepers including Roy Jensen and Edison Guthrie. Below are some questions and answers that are part of an email-interview with Edison about beekeeping for the August edition of The Leaflet.

How many hives do you have?

I have 3 hives. I started with 2 hives in 2007, and I started another hive this year by splitting a hive, or taking a few frames of bees and putting them into an empty hive body, letting them raise a queen.

How did you get started in bee keeping?

My grandfather raised bees in the 1940s. Knowing that he had worked with them, finding some of his old equipment, and hearing that there were bees disappearing gave me an interest in learning more about them. I visited the Nashville Area Beekeepers Association booth at the winter Lawn and Garden Show a couple of years ago; they were advertising a class on beekeeping. I did not take the class that year, but I was able to take it the next year with my wife. They gave general information about bees, beekeeping and constructing hives. I decided to order 2 hive kits and two colonies of bees. By the time I had the hives constructed, the bees had arrived, and I became a beekeeper.

Bees are social insects, and they are very interesting to watch. They crawl, wiggle, and dance, and they all have a specific task to perform, from the youngest to the oldest worker bee.

How much of a commitment IS beekeeping, i.e. how long can you leave them alone? Do you have a beehive-sitter when you are away? Are there bee-chores that must be done weekly all year long?

The spring and early summer are the busiest times of year; the bees are gathering nectar and pollen, building honey stores and increasing in numbers. There is time required to check on the bees, perhaps feed them and check for diseases. The honey work is in the summer and early fall. Time is required to construct hives and frames. The hives should be inspected every few weeks; more during the busy times, and less during the winter. Getting stung on occasion is part of beekeeping, though it can be pretty rare.

What plants really attract bees? (What do I plant in MY yard to attract my neighbors bees?)

We have lavender in our yard that the bees like, and of course they like the clover in the grass.

Check out this list of plants to attract bees from

It is highly recommended that one use native plants including: Aster, Black-eyed Susan, Caltrop, Creosote bush, Currant, Elder, Goldenrod, Huckleberry, Joe-pye weed, Lupine, Oregon grape, Penstemon, Purple coneflower, Rabbit-brush, Rhododendron, Sage, Scorpion-weed, and Snowberry.

Garden plants include: Basil, Cotoneaster, English lavender, Giant hyssop, Globe thistle, Hyssop, Marjoram, Rosemary, Wallflower, and Zinnia

Do you notice the difference in locations where beehives are located in the blooms, fruit production, etc?

I don't have experience with this.

What do beekeepers have to do differently, i.e. take care not to use any pesticides/some pesticides, etc?

This has not been a problem for me, because I don't use a pesticide or herbicide anywhere near the hives. You wouldn't want to spray near them or downwind from them.

Is there any of this "sudden-hive death" in Robertson County? Do you know if it tends to happen in large operations more often?

This is more of a problem for the bees that are transported by truck out west than it is for the hobbyist beekeeper. Those bees pollinate large fruit and nut operations. Bees can die out over the winter locally, but that would be due to a mite infestation that was not treated, a lack of food (honey or sugar water) or possibly a disease, but not the "colony collapse disorder"’ that is in the news.

Are mites still a problem?

Yes. Varroa mites are a major predator of bees. There are different treatments for them at different times of the year. Other pests include tracheal mites, small hive beetles, and some diseases that affect bees.

Are there areas or situations where having bees just won't work or is not advised (other than people who have allergies, I guess)?

People keep hives in urban areas, such as rooftops on buildings in Manhattan and in neighborhoods, without problems. Keeping a small number of hives, perhaps blocking them from view with bushes, and giving the neighbors a jar of honey periodically should allow a person to keep bees with neighbors nearby. Some cities may have an ordinance against beekeeping due to fears of stings. There is always the possibility, though, of being stung by a wasp or yellow jacket.

Speaking of allergies, I have read that local honey will help prevent local allergies….comment? Any other special use for honey of interest---particularly if it is local lore.

It is generally believed that eating local honey will assist you in combating allergies from that same locale. I don’t know if this has been scientifically verified. It has vitamins, mineral, amino acids, anti-oxidents, is fat free, cholesterol free, and sodium free.

Honey has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Honey has been used to treat wounds. Commercial products are now available that use honey in bandages to help hard-to-heal wounds. Apitherapy is the use of bee products to treat various diseases and promote well being. The benefits of honey, but also propolis, pollen, royal jelly, and bee venom are being studied today. Perhaps the best known use of bee venom is for relief of symptoms of multiple sclerosis and arthritis, but this has not been conclusively verified nor recommended by the medical community. My sister in law has MS and has taken bee stings for years to help alleviate the symptoms.

One other occurred to me:  Are you bring honey to the fair for judging?  Do a lot of the other bee keepers do so?  Is there anything special at the fair about it (exhibits?) that our readers should be alerted to?

I will not be bringing honey to the fair.  The bees are making some honey, but since I don't have much, I will keep it all.  I don't know anything special that readers should be alerted to.