They carry messages and deliveries across the region from backyards in Jackson and Port Vincent to greenery in Mid City and the grounds of the State Capitol. Their work impacts the economy and food supply. They aren’t bees, but they do work for them.

Members from the Capital Area Beekeepers Association are enthusiasts spreading the mission of commercial and backyard beekeeping. Janice and Dan Weber live in Greenwell Springs but were on hand for a July beekeepers class held at the Felicianas’ Store in Jackson.

Dan Weber likens beekeeping to an addiction and warns after getting started, one might need a 12-step program. In Jackson, the first taste was free. “It’s fun,” he said. “It’s fun to come out and talk to people who have similar interests.”

The Webers started 10 years ago with two hives in Baton Rouge, but the city has regulations limiting bee hives, so they moved to Greenwell Springs and their colony grew to more than seven as Dan Weber started collecting swarms. Hives that swarm will produce much less honey. Catching honey bee swarms is a way to save a group of bees or reduce the loss of honey in a colony.

Rapid rainfall in 2016 flooded the Webers’ yard, and Dan Weber started to rebuild after losing five hives.

CABA outreach coordinator Kevin Langley was helping beekeepers in the Felicianas when he came into the Felicianas’ Store and met the manager, Lewis Savoie. They worked out a plan to bring free beekeeping classes to the store in an effort to make new connections. “I’m trying to pollinate things — make things happens,” he quipped. “We didn’t have the A Team, we had the Bee Team.”

Langley thinks that a lot of people attending the workshop will develop home hives of their own. “It’s easy,” he said. “It’s a hobby that anyone can do.”

Langley became involved with bees close to home. While he was conducting business for the United Nations, his wife faced hive removal at their Goodwood home when their triplet daughters were babies. The next time a swarm appeared, he was able to capture the bees.

He now has hives of his own and is actively involved in swarm rescue and swarm relocation. In recent months, he’s responded to swarms at Baton Rouge Community College and on the grounds of the Louisiana State Capitol.

Family project

Langley held court with mostly adults in Jackson, but he travels the region teaching, training, convincing the masses like a bee business evangelist.

A week later he was in Baker giving hands-on training to new beekeepers as young as 8 years old. CABA has established the first youth beekeeper club in the Baton Rouge area through the 4-H program, and it meets and trains at a 4-H property used for a variety of outdoor activities.

Langley moved a swarm from the State Capitol to the 4-H property, giving him a fully functional bee colony to use in teaching.

Robert and Shae McLin and their sons are budding beekeepers from Port Vincent, in Livingston Parish. The family came for the 4-H woodworking shop, heard the beekeeping presentation and were won over. “It wasn’t anything we originally thought of. We just came here and became interested,” Robert McLin said.

Evan McLin, 10, is eager to show his bee knowledge during the inspection, and he pulled apart the frames to expose the busy bees and products of their labor that included what he called “propolis.”

“It’s like when the bees make this sticky stuff to keep the frames together so hive beetles and stuff can’t get through,” he explained.

Robert McLin said his sons are not always in full gear at home, but as the hive grows, he expects the bees to become more protective and that will make his family’s suits more necessary.

When his father explained that the family will start wearing their beekeeper suits more often, 8-year-old Aden exclaimed, “Like a family tradition.”

Research and more

The CABA mission expands from backyards to commercial and research support. CABA maintains eight bee colonies at the LSU AgCenter Burden Botanic Gardens. The hives are among a massive collection of nearly 100 that includes 70 hives maintained by a commercial producer from Bulgaria who operates at Burden.

The colonies provide hands-on experience to the agriculture students and researchers from LSU.

One such student, Kaylee Deynzer, is a horticulture major from Geismar who is studying vegetable plants and has an interest in how the bees affect vegetable plants. Some chemicals that might aid vegetable production might not be adversarial to the bees. “That includes nonorganic things like Roundup, but even some organic pesticides can be harmful to beneficial insects like bees,” she said.

Langley explained that most people are being positively swayed by bee benefits. “The vast majority of the people want to help the bees, but they just don’t know how,” he said. “Then there are people who are into gardening and they enjoy the gardening and pollination aspect that are doing something to support the pollinators (bees, butterflies, etc.). And then there are people who have hives at the houses who enjoy getting a little bit of honey for themselves and their family and friends.”

Langley said Louisiana has a very robust commercial beekeeping industry, and the bees from Louisiana hives aid in the pollination of California almond trees.

The Capitol Area Beekeepers Association has 200 members who are both professional and backyard beekeepers from all walks of life. For information, visit CABA at www.cabainfo.org.