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Desmond Simmons holds up a frame recently pulled from a hive.

 

KEEPING BEES

Lake in the Willows Apiary

By Lacey Thacker

It was a surprise to me,” Joyce Simmons says of her husbands’ embrace of beekeeping. Desmond Simmons points out that it was a surprise to him, too. But, when an acquaintance gave Desmond a tour of his own beekeeping operation, Desmond says he knew immediately that it was a hobby he wanted to pursue.

And a good thing, too, because Joyce already knew it was something she wanted to delve into. “We started in 2010 with two hives we purchased for our garden and allergies,” Joyce says, stating that she likes knowing where her food comes from. She’s always enjoyed gardening, but she wasn’t getting the results she wanted in her yard. She thought bees might be the answer. Once they took in their first crop of honey, she began consuming a teaspoon of honey or two a day, and after about a year, she was able to discontinue her seasonal allergy medications. 

After a couple years, word got out, and the Simmons began getting calls from people asking if they’d come remove bees from their home using a “bee vacuum” that sucks up the bees without harming them, allowing them to be safely relocated. Suddenly, their number of hives began to grow.

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“You just fall in love with them.” 

—Joyce Simmons

 

Caring for Bees
Today, the Simmons have between 70 and 75 hives, depending on the year. They have placed several hives on local farms at the owners’ request, and they recently purchased an additional twelve acres where they live in Scott on which to put additional hives.

Bees, seen here in an observation hive, work diligently to keep their home clean.

 

Beginning beekeeping isn’t necessarily complicated, but it does require commitment and a certain level of observation. “Spring takes a little management to make sure they’re not swarming, and honey takes a little time to gather in summer,” Desmond says, but otherwise it’s a matter of maintaining the area through basic yard care like weed eating and ensuring that there is a water source consistently available, particularly in summer. 

Joyce, a retired manager of quality standards in manufacturing, says, “Beekeeping is easy for me because that’s what I’ve been trained to do all those years. Of course, Desmond’s always telling me ‘Bees don’t follow a schedule—or the weather.’” Desmond, a retired member of the Air Force, currently works as a flight simulator technician training pilots. He says of raising bees that getting stung is “just part of it,” but points out that it’s not that bad and doesn’t even happen as often as one might think. When harvesting honey or inspecting frames, the bees will usually just ignore him “if you don’t pester them.”

It’s normal for beekeepers to lose 10-15% of their bees every year, and the Simmons are no different. They must constantly combat colony collapse, mites and new diseases, but they say colony collapse is getting better because of more purposeful insecticide management. In fact, the University of Arkansas, along with many other institutions on the state and national level, is doing research to further improve rates of colony collapse in the United States. 

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Raw honey is the cornerstone of all items offered for sale by Lake in the Willows Apiary.

 

Educating Others
The Simmons call their current variety a Razorback bee, as it’s a combination of wild bees and domestic Italian bees they’ve purchased in the past. They often take an observation hive full of these bees to local schools, state parks and even the Historic Arkansas Museum. They also manage hives at Toltec Mounds State Park and regularly host programs at the Ozark Folk Center. Because bees provide such a valuable service—pollinating two thirds of our crops—the Simmons are committed to raising awareness about the fascinating creatures. Plus, “They’re so organized and so hygienic, you just fall in love with them,” Joyce says.

“I love to see the kids come through there,” she says of their educational programs. “You tell the kids about bees, and the next year, they’re telling you about them!”

Bees certainly make honey, but it’s not just useful for sweetening our food. Joyce makes everything from lip balm and candles to lotion and salves. Her specialty, though, is creamed honey in a variety of flavors—lemon, matcha, ginger and even turmeric.

It’s because of that love of bees that, “We’re very diligent about using everything the bees make, and if we can’t use it we give it back to the bees,” Joyce explains. Honey or comb that isn’t used can be returned to the bees for use in storing for the winter. 

For more information on the care and keeping of bees, contact the Central Arkansas Beekeepers Association.