Of the 60 courses offered through Lighthouse for Learning this spring, 10 are presented by the Ellis County Master Gardeners and the Ellis County Extension Agency.

The two entities have teamed up to provide courses covering a variety of gardening topics, including one on bee keeping, led by Master Gardener Diane Hopkins.

The course is “for anyone who is interested in insects,” said Hopkins, who said she has thoroughly enjoyed her own bees and learning about them.

“I just love watching them work; they’re very organized workers. They do things so quickly and are able to accomplish great things for their size,” she said.

“Every time I go out (to the hives) I see something different that I haven’t seen before. It is very interesting. I find bees to be my most favorite insect,” said Hopkins, who uses few pesticides in her garden and relies on beneficial insects, like ladybugs, to control pest insects.

Environmentalists are among the people who might find the class of interest, she said.

“Those concerned about the recent reduction in bee population can get information about the problem,” Hopkins said, noting entomologists in Ellis County and other locations have reported dramatic losses, but the cause of colony collapse disorder remains unknown.

The class would also appeal to people wishing to become hobbyist bee keepers.

“Those who would like to start out with one or two hives, to watch how bees live and produce, can get a brief introduction to bee keeping,” Hopkins said, noting that one or two backyard hives is “manageable and possible.”

“If they’re interested further, I can recommend some bee keeping books and other resources, as well as suppliers of bees and equipment,” said Hopkins, who was taught how to keep bees by a mentor bee keeper.

Hopkins has 14 active colonies, which equates to about 60,000 bees per colony in the summer and less in the winter.

“Anyone with less than 50 hives is a hobbyist,” said Hopkins, noting those with more are considered commercial bee keepers.

There are many reasons why a person might be motivated to become a hobbyist bee keeper – Hopkins did so to produce her own honey.

As a child, Hopkins was given raw honey in her orange juice to relieve her allergy symptoms. When she and her husband moved to Waxahachie in the early 1980s, they were unable to find a local bee keeper to purchase raw honey from, so they became bee keepers themselves for several years. Although they stopped to raise a family, Hopkins resumed her hobby in 2000.

“I have an allergy to pollen and honey works for me,” said Hopkins, who does make note that the health benefits of honey have not been scientifically proven.

She believes in the benefits of honey though, especially raw honey.

“Honey is also much better for you than refined sugar and it’s been used in many other ways, like as an antibiotic suave,” she said. “Most honey that you’ll find at the grocery store has gone through heat processing before it is packaged and, therefore, does not have the same health benefits as raw honey.”

In addition to the health benefits Hopkins said she’s enjoyed from honey, the bees she’s raised have benefited her garden as well.

Her bees “cross pollinate whatever needs to be” in her garden, she said, noting she raises tomatoes, okra and or pumpkins, among others. Her flower garden includes roses, irises, native plants, lantana and Mexican petunias.

“Things like that draw the bees,” she said, noting her yard also includes a plum tree and an apple tree. “We have a tremendous amount of plums and apples. The bees cross-pollinate the trees when they bloom.”

For more information about bee keeping and other Lighthouse for Learning courses, call Waxahachie ISD community education coordinator Melissa Cobb at 972-923-4631, ext. 142.

Email Jennifer at jennifer.howell@wninews.com