When Amy Weeks and her husband bought their home in West Monroe, she found a swarm of bees sustained by a fruit tree on the property.
Her interest piqued, she used some family equipment to establish two beehives. Some 17 years later, her apiary—My Favorite Honey Farm—now has some 100 hives.
“I ended up being more successful than the fruit trees,” said Weeks, with a smile, during an interview with The Ouachita Citizen last week.
Weeks is expected to deliver a talk and presentation on beekeeping on Saturday, July 24, at 11 a.m. in the Discovery Place at the Union Museum of History and Art in Farmerville. The museum is at 211 N. Main St.
Visitors to Weeks' presentation can try a variety of honey as well as view an observation hive showing live bees.
At her farm, Weeks and her son, Wyatt, harvest and distribute honey to local stores as part of a private co-op with other area beekeepers.
“That keeps me busy enough,” she said. “There are many guys who produce a lot of honey but don't want to bottle it, and we don't want them to sell it out of the state, so I buy drums from them.”
Harvesting honey is only one part of her honeybee farm: a major part of her farm is rearing the Minnesota Hygienic queen bee, first developed as a disease-resistant line of queen bees at the University of Minnesota.
“I don't want to work my bees too hard for honey because I raise the queens and bees,” Weeks said. “The demand for a queen bee is pretty high. They will buy a queen bee when they need to split their hive. A hive will naturally grow big and split on its own, which is what we call a swarm. When that happens, the beekeeper loses half of his bees. So to keep his bees, you make an artificial split.”
The demand for a disease-resistant queen bee is high because mites and beetles and other pests introduced in the 1980s decimated the honeybee population across the country.
“Before then, beekeepers didn't have pests,” Weeks said. “My neighbor's father had 50 hives but he's now struggling to keep two or three because we have mites and beetles and pests. Our bees are having to catch up and learn to be resistant to those pests.”
Jim Davis, with the Ruston Bee Club, is a hobbyist beekeeper with about 30 beehives. He told The Ouachita Citizen he buys his queen bees from Weeks because her disease-resistant line are the “best around.”
“Most people don't know there are different breeds or good lines of bees,” Davis said. “She breeds and tests her bees to know if they're hygienic, which means they're more naturally more disease resistant. When I buy a queen from Amy, it's a Minnesota Hygienic queen so all her offspring are hygienic, too.”
During the interview last week, Weeks donned her beekeeper's veil and dropped handfuls of wood chips into her smoker to calm the bees as she worked near them.
“When you smoke them, from a biological standpoint, they think the forest is on fire so they go into the hive and eat honey,” Weeks said. “When they're eating honey, they're too busy to sting me. The smoke also masks the alarm pheromone and keeps them under control.”
Weeks opened a beehive to capture a queen bee and place the queen bee inside a plastic cage: a whistle-shaped plastic container with a rod stuff with candy.
“The queen will eat through the candy, which will take a few days, and the bees will get to know her through her pheromones,” Weeks said. “Otherwise, if she was introduced as a stranger, the other bees would kill her.”
Besides rearing queen bees, Weeks also sells bees in a starter beehive kit, called a “nuc,” short for a “nucleus hive.”
Weeks is a graduate of the University of Georgia Master Craftsman Beekeeper Program, is member and past president of Hill Country Beekeepers, and member of the Louisiana Beekeepers Association.
She sells queens, nucleus bee colonies, raw local honey, and beeswax. Weeks also mentors new beekeepers and is available for speaking engagements on queen rearing, beginning beekeeping basics, Africanized honey bees, and Apitherap.
When Weeks began keeping bees, she visited local bee clubs and found only a handful of people in attendance.
“There were only eight, and I thought, 'Man, if the knowledge dies with them, that would be the end of all that learning,'” Weeks said. “They were great to learn from. All but one or two of them have passed away now.”
Two beekeeping clubs in the area now have many members, many of them new to the hobby or profession of beekeeping. Weeks is a member of each the clubs listed below.
“Our bee club is much bigger now because so many people are interested in bees,” she said.
Hill Country Beekeepers meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the LSU AgCenter's office at 704 Cypress Street in West Monroe.
The Ruston Bee Club meets the fourth Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Parish Public Safety Complex.