Champion discovers buzzing hobby

Tierce Champion has always been interested in honey bees, and for the past 20 years he has been raising them on his property at Chelsea. He now has 10 beehive boxes scattered around his backyard, woods and fields. When he retires from his regular job in a few years, he hopes to have more, he said, maybe as many as 20.

“Come on and look in here,” he told me, indicating a wooden, weather-beaten, home-made box at the edge of his yard. “These won’t sting you. But the ones in that box up there on the hill are really mean. You don’t want around them.”

True to his word, while I peered down into their home and honey-making factory the bees ignored me and kept working. Even the camera flash didn’t disturb them.

Champion built all of his boxes except one. A glass window in one side allows a different view of the bees at work. A wire screen running horizontal across the middle of the box separates the bees’ honey from the honey he harvests.

“The bottom layer belongs to the bees,” he said. “They have to have something to eat and have their babies on. The top layer is mine.”

He explained that there is usually only one “queen” in a hive, the breeding female which lays all the eggs. When there get to be two adult queens in one box, one queen leaves. To keep the queen from leaving the area and taking workers with her, he beats the bottom of a pan with a spoon when they begin to swarm. The noise drowns out the queen’s message and when she sees they are not going, she doesn’t go either.

Champion tries to have a vacant box ready for a swarm before it can leave, or when he captures a new swarm someplace.

He’s seldom stung when he captures a swarm, he said, but he wears a beekeeper’s white outfit, hooded face mask, coverall and gloves, to harvest the honey.

The Chelsea beekeeper usually harvests around fifty pounds of honey from each hive. He knows it’s ready when the bees get the openings in the comb sealed with wax.

Shelba Nivens can be reached by e–mail at ssnivens@bellsouth.net.