Kentucky beekeeper finds hobby therapeutic, educational

Published 8:16 am Saturday, June 5, 2021

Ten years ago, Jeff Hagan’s interest in beekeeping quickly turned into a hobby.

Hagan said a friend gave him “the pieces” to start a hive, which had most of what he needed except the honey bees.

To get started, he ordered his first bees from Kelley Beekeeping Company in Grayson County.

“What you get in a package is about 3,000 bees and a queen,” Hagan said. “You put the queen and the bees inside the hive and then she starts laying eggs. Or you can get one that’s more established. They’re already together and the queen is already laying eggs.”

The other alternative is to capture bees in the wild.

As he became more familiar with caring for honey bees, Hagan said he began taking calls from people who had swarms in their trees or around their homes or properties.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve purchased bees,” Hagan said. “Now, you go out in the spring and catch swarms when people call you.”

However, beekeeping as a hobby has become more popular in recent years.

And Hagan said it’s created a demand for the honey bee swarms.

“If you’re there at the right time and the right moment, you can get some free bees,” Hagan said. “Bees can be expensive so everyone’s all over it. Now that there are so many new beekeepers, it’s really become competitive to find the bees.”

During his decade of raising bees, Hagan has maintained as many as nine hives. He’s now down to four after losing hives a couple of years ago to a fallen tree.

“…It’s got its ups and downs and frustrations, but it’s rewarding a couple of times a year,” Hagan said. “I don’t even like honey that much. And some think I just sit around and eat honey all day long but I don’t.”
When hives die during the winter, it’s not the cold temperatures that kill them but the lack of honey they need to sustain them until the spring.

“In this area, they need quite a bit of honey to survive a winter and the hive is usually big enough to survive through mid-February,” Hagan said. “And then, you start feeding sugar water.”

Hagan keeps his hives on properties near Panther Creek Park and in the Sorgho and West Louisville areas where he checks on them periodically. City ordinance prohibits raising bees within Owensboro, which is where Hagan lives.

Hagan said he would prefer to keep his hives in his backyard.

“Bees are here and just because we don’t see them in a white box doesn’t mean they’re not in your area,” Hagan said. “I think it’s ridiculous. I think we should be able to beekeep in town if we want. They’re not that aggressive.”

Hagan said most people raise bees for the honey or the honeycomb for personal consumption or to sell commercially.

Hagan said he now enjoys educating people about honey bees, and will even go to elementary schools when invited to talk about being a beekeeper — also known as an apiarist.

But he also said it’s therapeutic for him to be around the bees while also knowing he’s doing his small part to help the food supply and the farming community.

“It’s just good decompression to get out and to be involved in agriculture in some form,” he said.