Beekeeping makes retirement hobby for ex-prof

By Tom Kelly
Editor and Publisher


Dr. Steve Payne
Beekeeping and honey gathering has been around since before the Pharoahs, and remains alive and well in Louisiana, where it has grown in popularity with 12 regional clubs all across the state. Dr. Steve Payne, a retired college professor with roots in rural Winn Parish, is an avid beekeeping hobbyist and the vice president of the Hill Country Beekeepers based in West Monroe.

In an interview at The Piney Woods Journal office recently, Dr. Payne said he keeps about five to ten hives at his cabin near Dodson, and shares the honey with friends and family, as well as bartering honey for other home-grown foods in the Dodson area and near his home in Lafayette.

The Hill Country Beekeepers meet each second Friday evening of the month. Amy Weeks, the president of this club has been recently involved, along with Steve and several others, with preparing a grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to develop a three-year beekeeping program as an economic development project in parishes in the area where poverty is high. If this grant is approved, individuals would be given assistance in learning to become good beekeepers and how to produce several types of hive products for sale, in addition to honey.

The beekeeping community within Louisiana includes many individuals who pursue it as a hobby, like gardening, as well as those who are sideliners and some who operate large commercial enterprises for the sale of honey and other related products.

The Louisiana Beekeepers Association offers advice to those considering involvement as hobbyists, sideliners, or commercial beekeepers. In order to keep honey bees legally, according to the Association's newsletter and official website, there are rules. First check with local government to make sure it is legal, since a few places in the state still have rules against it.

Bees must be registered with the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry. A guide for becoming a beekeeper is available at labeekeepers.org., and getting involved with a local club can really help beginners answer their many questions.

Dr. Payne related some of the ins and outs of the beekeeping practice, whether for hobbyists or commercial operators. A big issue is the chemicals and pesticides used in agricultural production, even those used for home vegetable and flower gardening, and those used for spraying mosquitos. These chemicals can place stress on the bee colony and harm the health of the bees through their presence on plants that the bees use for foraging nectar and pollen.

When bees are busily gathering their nectar for honey making, they are also providing a critical service for the plants, by pollinating the plants, a requirement for the production of many vegetables, fruits and grains that we humans harvest for food. In some areas of the country where fruit and nut crops are harvested industrially, commercial beekeeping is a critical part of their productivity. Large commercial beekeepers in some parts of the country haul hundreds of hives on 18-wheeler vans to locations where crops are ready for pollination, and collect major fees for their services from the farmers.

In those major farm areas like California, Florida, and other states, Colony Collapse Disease where many hives of beesare lost-- has caused serious concern for commercial beekeepers. Dr. Payne said this has not been a major problem for hobbyists and sideliners in this area, although occasionally colonies do suffer from chemicals as well as pests such as hive beetles and mites.

Beekeepers in this state often place hives near soybean, cotton, citrus, watermelon, and berry crops, and within towns and cities where flowers and other blooming plants provide continuing forage throughout the year for their honey factories.

Honey lovers can learn to discern the various tastes that come from the nectar sources that the bees favor. Dr. Payne particularly likes the taste of orange blossom honey. There are many different crops that have their own unique flavors of honey. White clover is a common forage for bees and one of the more widely produced types of honey.

Among the bee products besides honey that are commercially useful are a substance called propolis, or bee glue that is produced by bees as a sealant in the hive, pollen, sold in health stores, bee toxin or venom, used for cosmetics and skin treatment, and beeswax, used for candles and other uses.

Dr. Payne is from an old Winn Parish family with ties to the Hudson community in rural Winn. His great-grandfather was a medical doctor and justice of the peace in early Winn Parish. His grandfather's brother, Braxton Payne, along with Rev. W.M.D. Gaar established the Hudson Interdenominational Tabernacle in 1899. His grandfather, I.B. Payne, ran the community store in Hudson (1906-1937) and raised funds for the support of the Hudson Tabernacle.

The old tabernacle and community center there, overseen by his cousin Patsy Sharp, remain in use today by several pioneer families for reunions. Dr. Payne himself is retired from teaching management at several universities, including 13 years at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, six years at Eastern Illinois University, and 11 years at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he has settled after retirement. He visits the old family place at Hudson one week each month to work, communicate with nature, and keep up with his bees.

Editor's note: Dr. Payne assisted with the article by reviewing the draft prior to publication and adding clarifications and certain details of interest to the beekeeping community and the general public.

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