Beekeeper Stacy VanDortrecht

Daniel Dye / The Herald

Master beekeeper Stacy VanDortrecht checks on bee hives at an apiary she manages located in Holtville. She and her husband, Ben, began beekeeping 10 years ago.

Stacy VanDortrecht had no idea 10 years ago her initial interest in honeybees would lead to a full-time job.

“About 10 years ago, my husband, Ben, and I decided to start to learn how to be self-sustaining,” she said. “We started out raising rabbits then chickens. Once we knew we could do that, we looked at honeybees.”

VanDortrecht’s interest in honeybees continued to increase as time went on.

“They can teach you so much,” she said. “Bees are declining. We need the bees. If bees went away, humans would survive for five years. That’s how important bees are. Just everything you can imagine, bees can teach you. They are just fascinating.”

Now, the VanDortrechts own a business that offers bee removal, operates hives at five locations in Elmore County and harvests honey and beeswax.

She said she and her husband have answered around 120 calls for honeybee removals.

Rather than placing the honeybees back in the wild, VanDortrecht takes the insects to her apiary.

“A few weeks ago we went to Gunter Park and removed a large external hive,” she said. “The hive was 40 feet up in the air hanging from a tree. We brought it down branch and all. Eventually we got it into a box and relocated it to our nursery.”

From there, she gives the honeybees treatments for varroa mites and hive beetles and puts them on a diet of sugar water and vitamins.

“Varroa mites are the most harmful pest to the bees,” VanDortrecht said. “They are like a tick. When they get on the honeybees it spreads disease. Wild swarms are healthier and that is what we catch and rehabilitate.”

The Alabama Beekeepers Association master beekeeper said she wants more people to be educated about the importance of honeybees and establish their own hives.

“It costs around $500 to $600 to get started,” she said. “You can start off by buying packaged bees or an established hive and the bee boxes.”

VanDortrecht recommended new beekeepers start with at least two boxes so the health of one hive can be compared to the second hive.

She said caring for honeybees is more detailed than in years past due to pests.

“Today, the pests we have, like the varroa mites and hive beetles, you have to be proactive,” she said. “In the past, you could have hives, harvest the honey twice a year and be good to go.”

She recommended people interested in keeping bees contact their county extension office or attend a beekeeping seminar.

She said if time, finances or allergies prevent people from keeping bees, there are still ways everyone can support the health of these insects.

“Feed the bees,” she said. “What we think are weeds, bees don’t. You want to mow that first dandelion because it looks junky (but) that is the first bee food for the year.”

She said Alabama’s warm winters make the bees eat their food storage more quickly than bees located in colder climates.

“We have those warm days in the winter so they are eating up their storage,” she said. “Come dandelion season, our bees are hungry. We are losing bees to starvation. Leave the dandelions alone and plant gardens and flowering plants. It will help.” 

The Central Alabama Beekeepers Association will hold beginner classes at the Elmore County Extension Office for six Thursdays beginning Feb. 20. The class is $60 per person if the fee is paid by Feb. 13. For more information, call VanDortrecht at 334-224-8355 or the Elmore County Extension Office at 334-567-6301.