Busy bees

Area beekeepers honor Virginia honey month
Scott Currie, of Toms Brook, explains the thinking behind his backyard beehive. The sugar water atop the hive nourishes the bees and cues them to increase their breeding processes. Jake Zuckerman/Daily
Scott Currie, left, helps Melissa Smith-Heltzel extract a honey rack from her beehive. After the extraction, Currie fearlessly shakes the bees off the rack so Smith-Heltzel can enjoy the fruits of their labor. Jake Zuckerman/Daily

MAURERTOWN – September is honey month in Virginia, and several area beekeepers are shucking the latest batch of honey from their hives.

Beekeeping, a highly technical hobby, usually requires classroom learning and mentorship. Scott Currie, of Toms Brook, has been working with bees for 20 years now, with added intensity in the last five. He keeps hives of his own, along with helping Melissa Smith-Heltzel with hers. They are both members of the Shenandoah County Beekeepers, with the Shenandoah County Department of Parks and Recreation.

A lot goes into beekeeping, according to Currie. While checking his own hives, he makes sure the bees have access to their sugar water solution. He said the solution’s supplemental nourishment signals the bees that they can handle a population boom, which leads them to lay more eggs.

Likewise, he checks racks below the hives for the presence of varroa mites, parasites that infect and destroy hives, to make sure the queen is well and in her right place, honey production is coming along well, the bees are not overheated, along with other more technical ins and outs of the trade.

Currie first got into beekeeping when a friend gifted him a beehive. Since then, he’s been mentored and is mentoring in the trade, working to preserve the bee population.

“It’s just a passion,” he said of his hobby. “It’s time well spent in a way I really enjoy. I get to help other people increase the bee population.”

While most beekeepers wear beesuits to protect the body from stingers (or the thought of them), Currie works in a long-sleeve shirt, fearless of the yellow flyers. He does, however, wear a mask to protect his face.

At Smith-Heltzel’s farm in Maurertown this week, the new beekeeper pulled out her first racks to be extracted for making honey. She first built her beehive last year, but wasn’t able to get any honey then before the winter.

She said she grew up on an orchard in Martinsburg, West Virginia, which relied on bee pollination to thrive. Thus, when she heard about the Shenandoah County Beekeepers and its annual class, she decided to get on board.

The beekeepers class runs through the Shenandoah Parks and Recreation department in January and February. The group also meets on the third Thursday of every other month.

According to a 2015 proclamation from Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Virginia honey month is an opportunity to acknowledge the work of those harvesting honey and the value of honey to Virginians.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com

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