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Stung by the beekeeping bug in Afton

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Back in 2010, Afton resident Gregg Lauderdale was looking for something to keep his free time occupied.

“I was looking for a hobby,” he said. “I wanted something that wasn’t too time intensive and something that I could do to give back and be worthwhile.”

He found one “sweet” hobby in the form of beekeeping and honey production.

Lauderdale, who works as a training director for sports camps around the country, launched G’s Bees Honey in 2011.

“The job I have is highly social in nature,” he said, “so it’s nice to just have me and the bees.”

G’s Bees

It was in 2010 that Lauderdale decided to take a beekeeping class.

 “I had seen articles on beekeeping and the nature of beekeepers,” he said. “I saw the population was dying and it was a problem that needed to be addressed and local beekeepers play a key role in that.

“Once I took the class, it kind of piqued my interest even more.”

Even though the class really spearheaded Lauderdale’s interest in beekeeping, his first introduction to the hobby dates back even further.

In 1999, Lauderdale and his wife Lisa Damon were married in Sweden, where Damon studied in 1994.

The host family that Damon stayed with, who Lauderdale met in 1999, were beekeepers.

Then in 2009, Lauderdale and Damon returned to Sweden where Lauderdale learned about the hobby and the rest is history.

Lauderdale bought his first colony of package bees, which come from Chico, Calif., in 2011.

The colony included roughly 7,000 bees.

“I’ve been hooked ever since,” Lauderdale said.

Today, Lauderdale has four colonies of bees, with  up to 30,000 bees in each.

“I admire (Gregg) because he’s really interested in the preservation of the bees,” Damon said.

 A community of bees

Each of Lauderdale’s bee colonies includes one queen bee, who is responsible for reproduction, drones — the males responsible for reproduction — and the worker bees, who are the females in the colony who care for the young bees, protect the colony and take care of the nectar gathering and honey production.

The worker bees make up the vast majority of the colony.

“They’re such a community,” Lauderdale said. “Every bee in the colony has a role, so they’re very in tune with how to keep the colony intact.”

The typical yearly cycle for Lauderdale and his bees is:

- January-February: bees are wintering, not much activity

- March-June: weekly inspections of the bees as the queen is busy laying eggs.

- July-August: Bees busy themselves gathering nectar and making honey in preparation for winter.

- August-Honey extraction and filtration.

- September-October: Trying to build up the population in preparation for winter.

- November-December: Securing and protecting the bees for winter.

Lauderdale said March to June is the busiest time of year for him as a beekeeper, spending about six to 10 hours inspecting the bees every month.

In terms of the honey production, Lauderdale and Damon were able to extract a total of 120 pounds of honey. An additional 300 pounds of honey remains in the hives. 

“We just sell the honey through word of mouth,” Damon said.

“The honey is like liquid gold,” Lauderdale said.

Additionally, Damon has also dabbled in making soap and lip balm out of the honeycomb.

Lauderdale said some of the challenges associated with beekeeping include making sure the bees have everything they need and learning as he goes.

“Being new to it, you kind of don’t know what you don’t know,” he said. “I learn something new all the time.”

In terms of being stung, Lauderdale said it’s all just part of the job.

“I’ve been stung many times,” he said. “It just comes with the process.”

Lauderdale said he hopes to maintain his colonies where they are, or maybe grow by a few.

“It’s still enjoyable this way because it’s not a big time constraint for me,” he said. “But, sometimes the bees dictate how many colonies you have.”

Lauderdale and Damon said their main goal is to help preserve the bee population and to educate people about bees.

“We need bees for food production and there’s a great value to honey,” Damon said. “I’ve noticed that people equate every flying bug as a bee, so they kind of have a bad rap.

“Bees are a lot more advanced, they’re kind of an advanced society.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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