“The UPS delivery man was not happy with us,” Chris & Leon Athey chuckled when they ordered their first 100 bees nearly five years ago. From then to now they have amassed a system of numbers and letters for hives and nucs to categorize the many different boxes on their beautiful property. Mrs. Chris, a retired teacher from the Mobile County Public School and Leon, a pilot for Daybrook Fisheries and retired electrical engineer, have found a full-time hobby with beekeeping.
They have made sure to say that they are not master beekeepers, but they are full of knowledge about the skill as if they were master beekeepers. Whether it is sharing about the setup of brood boxes or vaporization of oxalic acid, they have done their research on what works and what does not work. Their bee farm is full of both high-end plastic boxes as well as hand-made wooden boxes. They showed us the first boxes they started with. It was amazing to see they were still in good condition. Now Leon has molds that he builds all the nuc boxes with as well as the frames for the hives.t
Upon getting the A’s and Bees of Beekeeping Mrs. Chris shared one of the most important things: registering the bees with the state. Many fail to do this and miss out on the benefits the state can provide, such as announcements for certain geographical areas concerning bees. Leon laughably shared that he and Mrs. Chris have had some disagreements early on because of not knowing what to do. Now their biggest arguments come when one out of the 40,0000 bees per hive are accidentally killed. Leon also made a relevant point when beekeeping, “What you will learn are strategies, nothing is definite.”
After a quick breakdown we got our suits on and went out to the bee yard to find unexpected activity. Chris shared that you better not have anything planned when going to check the bees because you will almost always find something that needs to be addressed and that was exactly what we encountered. Pictured below is one of the swarms that we found. There were four queens on the ground being attacked by other bees. The Atheys sprung into action with their queen cages to separate the queen from the other bees. Then they had to find other hives that would accept each of the queens.
Seeing the bees up close you get to learn so much more about their behavior and the jobs that each have. From drones to undertakers, each and every bee has its place in the hive. Beekeeping has become an artform for the Atheys. More so than simply inspecting the hives, beekeeping is all about record keeping. When inspecting certain boxes Mrs. Chris would refer back to her folder where she kept detailed records, such as where the queen was located, the brood box activity, and when frames need to be taken out to harvest honey.
Many have come to the Atheys to get nucs and/or get questions answered about their own bee hives. Delaney Crawley has been beekeeping for 40+ years. He stated that he wished someone like the Atheys would have been around when he started. He has learned more in the short number of years knowing them than he has learned in the entire 40 years of beekeeping. As with anything, there are those that share of ways in which beekeeping was done by their ancestors or others that are known in the beekeeping world. Yet the Atheys encourage everyone to do their own research, not simply believing what someone else is saying. Thus, beekeeping is just like anything else, it is a skill that can be built upon by increasing knowledge in that particular field.
The Atheys were gracious enough to share their email address for those that are interested in learning more or even have questions about their own hives. From time to time they also have nucs that can be acquired for those looking to start or expand their beekeeping. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.