Beekeepr Lorri Mason pulls slats out of one of her hives at her backyard garden in Douglasville on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (Video by Hyosub Shin / AJC)

Beekeeping gains momentum in metro Atlanta

Lorri Mason got stung, if you will, by the idea of beekeeping after seeing “The Secret Life of Bees.”

The film, based on the best-seller by Sue Monk Kidd, is a coming of age story set in the South in 1964.

In it, there is a trio of black beekeeping sisters who help introduce the young main character, Lily, to the entrancing world of honey and beekeeping.

“I was captivated,” said Mason, 46, of Douglasville, a certified beekeeper and owner of Stem ’N Roots, a backyard farm business that sells organic produce, eggs and honey. “I was hooked just watching August Boatwright (played by Queen Latifah) work with bees. I had never seen a black person working with bees.”

Mason promptly turned to the Internet to research beekeeping and found a farm near Athens that held beekeeping classes.

That was six years ago.

Today, Mason, a former administrative assistant, mostly sells her honey in local farmers markets. She owns four hives, which she guesses are home to 180,000 honeybees.

Ironically, Mason, who is a member of the West Georgia Beekeepers Association, is allergic to bee stings and has been stung about 30 times, but doesn’t plan to give up her “obsession.”

Around metro Atlanta, other people like Mason are turning to the sweet business of beekeeping.

Keith S. Delaplane, a professor and director of the Honey Bee Program at the University of Georgia, estimates the number of hobby beekeepers has risen by at least 25 percent in the past decade. At one time, he could count the number of clubs on one hand. Today, there are at least 29 registered beekeeping clubs in the state, with each representing an average membership of between 200 and 300 people.

“There’s a core of knowledge you need to know if you want to get into dairy farming,” said Delaplane, who has written extensively about bees and beekeeping. “The big advantage of beekeeping is that you don’t have to build a barn, you don’t have to fence in your pasture. You don’t need a lot of land. It’s something that virtually anybody with a backyard can get into.”

And the initial costs are relatively low — perhaps $500 for bees, equipment and clothing.

Intown areas, he said, are particularly good for beekeeping, because of the diversity of plants and flowers.

Corey Daniels, a 46-year-old retiree who lives in Atlanta and has a master’s in instructional design, started beekeeping about six years ago. “I liked gardening and planting flowers and shrubs,” he said. “I noticed that different bees would come around. Things just kind of happened. It’s like I looked at the bees one day and just started beekeeping.”

He attended beekeeping meetings, joined a club and did research. He now has two hives, with 60,000 honeybees in each.

It’s strictly a hobby for Daniels, who doesn’t sell the product, using it himself or giving it to friends.

“I never produced enough to worry about selling,” he said.

But beekeeping is not trouble-free.

Natural predators such as certain insects, like Varroa mites, can wreak havoc on a hive; so can some pesticides.

You also can’t lasso bees. They are free to go wherever and whenever they wish. Bees can travel up to 20 miles from a hive, so they can end up in a neighboring county.

Once, after Daniels had taken honey from the hive, he went out there one day and “they were gone,” he said. “The colony of bees left. They just flew away.”

He was done. Or, so he thought. He left the honey in the hives. The next year, the bees came back.

Andy Bailey of Cumming, vice president of the Georgia Beekeepers Association, got into beekeeping nearly a dozen years ago.

“I fell in love with it,” he said. Bailey, who has 40 colonies or hives, is mesmerized watching his bees work and grow.

“Bees have been around for thousands of years,” he said. “We’re in their world, so to speak. They’re here to do a job. Basically, if you sit down for a meal, one out of every three bites is because of pollination by the honeybee.”

Bailey thinks interest in beekeeping has grown, in part, because people are concerned about the stability of the honeybee population and also because of an interest in health.

“In this day and age, people want to know where their food comes from,” Bailey said.

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