Several hives of Lincoln County honeybees are under the care of the county’s littlest beekeeper. Laylah Hunt, 11, of Pumpkin Center, first started keeping bees when she was just 9 years old. She took beekeeping classes with her mother and she became fascinated by the industrious insects.
“The next year, me and my dad took the class and I really liked it,” she said. “I like how they work in perfect harmony. They all have one special job and they all help each other to make honey. They all do their job.”
When Hunt became a certified beekeeper at 9 years old, she was the youngest certified beekeeper in North Carolina. She’s currently working toward her journeyman’s certificate and then will work toward becoming a master beekeeper.
Honeybees work extraordinarily hard to produce honey. The average worker bee, which only lives about three weeks during the honey flow, which lasts the second week of April through the first week of June in this area of the country, produces only about 1/12th of ateaspoon of honey in her lifetime, according to Hunt. A honeybee visits 50-100 flowers during a collection trip. Not only has Hunt learned how to care for bees, she’s also learned how important they are to the food supply.
“Every one in three bites of food that we eat is pollinated by bees,” she said. “So without bees we wouldn’t have all the clothing we have or all the fruits and vegetables that we eat.”
Out of the 100 crop species that provide us with 90 percent of our food, 70 percent are pollinated by bees.
Hunt enjoys honey on toast and with Greek yogurt and blueberries. Amazingly, she’s never been stung by a bee.
“I don’t go to the hives without all of my equipment put on correctly and tape around my wrists and ankles to keep them from getting me,” she said. “I’m very cautious. I don’t want to be stung.”
Hunt and her mother and father, Cindy and Johnnie, currently maintain six hives of bees. The unfortunate fact of raising bees is the loss of a hive, which makes Hunt sad. So far, they’ve lost four hives, called a colony collapse, which is not an uncommon loss for beekeepers.
“A lot of the chemicals that people spray on gardens and lawns to keep away mosquitoes and stuff can hurt them,” she said. “If they got on a flower with that stuff on it then they might take it back to the hive and make honey with it. If it’s poisonous to bees and they eat it, it’ll kill a lot of bees. You work so hard to keep a hive, like a kid who has a pet goldfish and it dies, it makes you sad.”
In addition to insecticides and fungicides that are commonly used on crops, bees are susceptible to parasites like the Varroa mite, which feeds on bee fluids, and the small hive beetle, which damages honeycombs, stored honey and pollen.
On one of the last days of school at Catawba Springs Elementary, Hunt did a presentation for the entire third grade class. With the assistance of her mentor, Burton Beasley, the president of the Gaston County Beekeeper's Association, she showed the students the various beekeeping tools she uses, explained how bees make honey, the different jobs the bees do and then passed out sample jars of honey from her hives. Hunt hopes to start a bug club next year at school.
“Then more people will become aware of bees and hopefully become beekeepers which will help the bee population,” she said.
For more information about the Hunt family bees, visit their Facebook page, The Little BeeKeeper. In addition to honey, the family also makes elderberry syrup.