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‘Money in the honey’

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Local beekeeper Dale Starnes finds bucks in the buzz

By Greg Summers

For Dale Starnes, Christmas comes in April.
That’s when Starnes, a local beekeeper, gets to taste what those hundreds of thousands of Italian honeybees set up at 65 hives in six locations have been up to for the previous three months.
“Without a doubt, the first batch of honey I ever tasted was the best thing I ever put in my mouth,” Starnes said.
“When it comes to taste, the wildwood flower honey we make here, I’ll put it up against Tupelo and Sourwood honey alike.
“I’m glad things start back up in February. Right now, I’m down to less than two cases,” he said. “And when it’s gone, there won’t be anymore until June.”  
For Starnes and his fellow members of the Lancaster Beekeepers Association, beekeeping is a fun hobby with sweet rewards.
That notion is something that Starnes learned from Georg Burbach. The two are friends and attend church together at Hopewell United Church.
“Some people, they relax by watching fish swim in an aquarium,” Starnes said. “I just love watching bees work. My grandkids love gettin’ out there with me and working with the bees. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it. Honey is the only food product in the world that never goes bad.”
Learning the basics of beekeeping is what the upcoming certified beginners-level beekeeping class is all about. The six-week class, which costs $50, is Feb. 4-March 11 in the Marion Sims Theater at Springs Memorial Hospital.   
Taught in conjunction with Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, the entry-level course provides would-be beekeepers with the skills needed to successfully keep and manage honeybees for fun and for profit.
Course topics include the role of honeybees in the world; bee hives and accessories; how to get started; managing honey production; bee hive products and off-season management; along with honeybee disorders, parasites and nest invaders.
At the end of the 12-hour course, there will be a review and a written test to become a certified beekeeper in the S.C. Master Beekeeping program.
Beekeeping is a hobby with a $300 to $400 start-up cost that can become quite lucrative, Starnes said. With the average hive producing about $400 of honey annually, it takes less than a year for a hive to pay for itself.
Starnes said some commercial beekeepers on the East Coast now have bees for hire. They transport and lease their beehives to farms in California to help pollinate crops there each spring.
California almond growers alone, Starnes said, pay anywhere from $100 to $120 per hive, with beekeepers keeping the honey.
“You know, one of the first things Georg taught me is, if you’re going to have a hobby, have one that makes money,” Starnes said, laughing. “He was right, about that, too. Honey is money.”
 

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Contact copy editor Greg Summers at (803) 283-1156     
Interested?
WHAT: Certified Beginners-Level Beekeeping Course
WHERE: Marion Sims Theater inside Springs Memorial Hospital, 800 W. Meeting St.
WHEN: Classes are 7 to 9 p.m. each Tuesday, Feb. 4 through March 11 (six weeks). Several slots remain.
HOW MUCH: $50 per person (payable at the door). Cost includes textbook, non-refundable written test fee and one-year membership in the S.C. Beekeepers and Lancaster County Beekeepers associations
INFORMATION: To sign up, call Sheila Starnes at (803) 283-7819 or Dale Starnes at (803) 286-9550.