Number of beekeepers climbing regionally

Associate Editor

(May 10, 2016) When Bob Laviole, owner of Golden Days Farm, first joined the Ashland Beekeepers Association in central Virginia four years ago, the group, he said, had about 110 members.
Four years later, the number of members has doubled. Why?
Worry, mostly.
“We draw 100 people at every meeting,” said Laviole, a King William resident. “As a matter of fact, we’re going to start looking for a bigger building because we’re starting to outgrow it. … The interest level right now is extremely high.”
Over the last decade, researchers and scientists across the nation have documented an alarming disappearance of bees and beehives, sparking new interest in the hobby.
Experienced beekeepers are also encouraging people to join classes in the hope that it might help restore a healthy honeybee population.
Experts still have not pinpointed the source of the dwindling, known as colony collapse disorder, but have blamed a number of culprits, including pesticides, overdevelopment and a declining number of flowering plants, dangerous mites and stress from shipping hives.
Nationwide, there are between 1,500 and 1,800 commercial beekeepers and approximately 125,000 hobbyists, according to a 2014 report by Monsanto.
Though it’s not the first time history has documented dramatic honeybee losses — the 1880s, the 1920s and the 1960s each saw significant losses, according to the USDA — the current crisis is drawing new beekeepers into regional beekeeping classes.
Paul Dill, president of the Eastern Shore Beekeepers Association, said he mentors new beekeepers and has seen an increase in students, not to mention the creation of two new beekeeping associations on the Eastern Shore in recent years.
All clubs are seeing growth like that, Laviole said.
To start, a beekeeping box can cost between $125 and $150, he said, and some states will reimburse beekeepers for some of the cost.
A new beekeeper can buy a package that includes two or three pounds of loose bees with a queen or they can buy a nucleus, a miniature hive already functioning.
A package takes about eight weeks to catch up to a nucleus, he said.
Most beekeeping classes are held in the winter, but here are some classes and meetings in the area coming up:
• Flickerwood Apiary is offering an organic beekeeping class on May 14 at the Lucy School, 9117 Frostown Road, Middletown, Md. The class will include an overview of organic honey beehive management, how to keep hives healthy, how to read the brood nest and how to monitor for varroa mites, among other issues. Cost is $125. Register at
• The Virginia State Beekeepers Association’s spring meeting will be held June 17-18 at the Smithfield Center, 220 North Church St., Smithfield, Va. Speakers will include Dr. Larry Connor, retired Extension bee specialist at Ohio State University; and, Jennifer Berry, apicultural research coordinator and lab manager for the University of Georgia Honey Bee Program. There will be workshops Saturday afternoon. Find more information at
• The DC Beekeepers Alliance’s 2016 short course is sold out, but it’s already signing people up for its 2017 course on its website at The organization said demand for urban beekeeping instruction “wildly outstrips supply.” The site also includes links to additional local groups with classes, many of which have already sold out their short courses in 2016.