What started as a hobby for John Dupree, now has expanded to a strong “sideline” business and being chosen to serve on a statewide board.
Dupree, of Delhi, was recently chosen to the Board of Directors for Louisiana Beekeepers Association (LBA). He is only one of three people from north Louisiana to be chosen to the 16-person board.
LBA is a non-profit organization that promotes beekeeping in Louisiana and also serves to educate beginning to commercial beekeepers.
“(LBA) is a really good organization to belong to,” Dupree, a retired RN, said. “We try to put on programs that will educate people from beginners to experts. (LBA) hosts a lot of speakers and as a member of the board, I will be doing some speaking.”
Dupree started in beekeeping six years ago when a wild hive formed a nest on his property.
“One of my first mentors helped me get the bees out and put them in boxes,” Dupree said. “I started out with two and now have 200 (boxes).”
Dupree admitted to being nervous at first but soon found enjoyment in his new hobby. In the beginning, Dupree extracted his honey from a portable building but as his box count grew so did his facilities.
Dupree now extracts honey from his 200 boxes in a “honey house” on his property. The “honey house” is lined with a stainless steel uncapping tank, honey extractor, strainer and bottling tank.
He does bottle some but mainly sells his product in bulk to other bottlers throughout north Louisiana.
Nothing is wasted in the extraction of honey. The wax is put in 55-gallon drums and the remaining honey is slowly drained. The dry wax is either sold or fed back to the bees.
Along with extracting honey, Dupree builds and sells nuc boxes.
The nuc boxes are used to hive a small colony of bees. They serve as a bait box to try to capture swarms and functions as a mating nuc for raising queens.
“The complexity of a beehive is amazing,” Dupree said.
There are three kind of bees in a hive: queen bee, worker bees and male drones.
Queen bee is the life of the hive. She is the largest bee and lays all the eggs that maintains the hive population. To keep her strength up, the worker bees prepare her a special diet of royal jelly.
Every egg is fed royal jelly for the first three days of their lives, but only the queen eats it for her entire life, Dupree said.
Male drones fly outside the hive, waiting to mate with the queen.
An aging queen may leave the hive with up to 50 percent of the worker bees and fly off to start a new hive, leaving a daughter queen to inherit the original hive. If she is ailing or no longer producing viable bees, the colony may sting her to death.
A replacement queen can be added by a beekeeper, or, if there are viable eggs, the colony can feed a continuous diet of royal jelly to a larvae and create a new queen. If there are several brood being nurtured as possible queens, the first new queen bee to emerge will kill all the other developing queens.
There are several “enemies” of a beehive, Dupree said.
One such enemy is the varroa mite. The varroa mites are external parasites that attack both bees and brood, sucking blood from both adults and developing brood.
This weakens the bee’s immune system and sometimes bees will leave the hive in a “self-imposed brood break,” Dupree said.
To treat varroa mites, Dupree said he used oxalic acid, commonly known as wood bleach.
Another common varmint of the bees, is the small hive beetle. The beetle causes damage to comb, stored honey and pollen.
To fight the beetle, Dupree uses a dry Swifter sheet. When the sheet is placed in the hive, the bees will “fuzz it up” trying to move it. After it is “fuzzed up,” the beetle will get trapped on it because its hooked feet gets entangled.
There is a greater enemy to the bees than varroa mites and small hive beetles.
“The worse enemy of the bees are humans,” Dupree said. “We tamper with them way too much.”
Even with varmints and occasional stings, Dupree said the hobby of beekeeping is enjoyable and is affordable for those starting out.
“A person needs to start with a bee suit or good jacket,” Dupree said. “One box costs $20, and frames cost $2.”
Bee boxes usually hold 10 frames.
There is a secret to being a successful beekeeper.
“The secret of success is to replace your losses each year,” Dupree said. “You will lose 15 to 20 percent of the hive each year.”
For more information, Dupree recommends attending a local beekeeper meeting such as the Hill Country Beekeepers. The group meets the second Friday of each month at 7 p.m. at the LSU Ag Center Extension office in West Monroe. The meetings are open to the public.
“This is a good place to get started,” Dupree said. “There are people from Fort Necessity, Arkansas, Vicksburg and all over attending the meeting. There are speakers and also they sponsor field days. You’ll learn a lot.”