The Honey Pot: Small Operations Have Large Impact On Alabama Agriculture
Making honey is hard work, but it’s hard for a farmer to complain with an army of volunteers working tirelessly around the clock producing the golden goodness.Daniel Hutcheson, 31, of Pisgah, has no shortage of workers in his beekeeping business at Creek Bend Meadows. Along with wife, Brandi, and father-in-law, Rodney Koger, Hutcheson has expanded his Jackson County operation from two to 22 hives in just three years. Hutcheson, chairman of the Jackson County Farmers Federation Bee & Honey Committee, works for the Tennessee Valley Authority, where Koger worked until he retired.Koger said he talked to Daniel and Brandi about it, and the next Father’s Day he became a beekeeper. After that, they learned the ropes and worked to expand.Hutcheson says their success was not a result of their own efforts.“We were fortunate to have some bees given to us in the beginning,” Koger said. “When we got the bees, we had plenty of neighbors and friends who were willing to offer advice and guide us in the right direction.”Hutcheson runs a different kind of beekeeping operation than many people he knows in the business. He says he’s been fortunate that his bees are naturally strong and healthy. Leaving a sufficient amount of honey in the hive for the bees to eat during the winter months ensures food for the brood and a strong defense against hive beetles and Varroa mites that can kill the hive. If the honey supply that supports the hives gets low, Hutcheson and Koger buy sugar in 50-pound bags and put pans of sugar water outside the hives for the bees to eat.“A.J. Brown at Valley Head gave me the best start-up advice. He said, ‘Keep the hive strong. That is the best defense they have,’” said Hutcheson. “We try not to medicate them and to let them build immunities, but that doesn’t mean we will never have the need to.”Hutcheson is working to educate surrounding farmers and gardeners about the safe, effective use of pesticides. He sees no problem using them, but wants to ensure the safety of his hives that surround fields and gardens by limiting chemical use. Hutcheson and Koger only sell raw (unheated/untreated) honey, but hope to sell beeswax candles and honeycombs. “Honey is popular among local residents because it is a proven remedy for allergy problems,” Hutcheson said. Both men consume at least a small amount each day. A teaspoon a day is what Koger recommends. Hutcheson and Koger are gearing up to try their hands at raising queen bees, which they say are hard to find in the Pisgah area and can cost $27 or more.As with any farming business, Hutcheson said he has plenty of highs and lows with beekeeping. He said his favorite thing about having bees is that it allows him to have a constant impact on agriculture.“Most people don’t realize beekeeping is something they can do on a quarter of an acre of land,” he said. “Whether they were raised on a farm or not, this is a way for them to have a large impact on agriculture.”Alabama Farmers Federation Bee & Honey Division Director Mac Higginbotham said bees and what they do for farmers are often overlooked.“Agricultural research has proven various crops require different levels of pollination, and pollination is a key factor to increasing yields and determining the quality of crops,” Higginbotham said. “Pollen is not effectively moved by the wind, and some crops are highly dependent on active, pollinating bees.”Hutcheson sells honey in 12- and 24-ounce bottles. He can be reached at email@example.com.For local honey producers, visit the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Bee & Honey Producers’ page at www.alfafarmers.org/commodities/bee_honey.phtml.