Dan Hobgood owns and operates Bee-Goods (www.bee-goods.com), an apiary specializing in natural honey and sustainable beekeeping located near Ida. He recently hosted a beekeeping workshop as part of the Eat Local Challenge. Dan spoke with Gambit about natural beekeeping and his plans to make mead.
How did you get into the business of beekeeping?
Hobgood: I got started doing beekeeping first as a boy, but this time around it was 10 years ago when my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her family owns about 180 acres in Ida, Louisiana, and we decided we were going to move up there, plant a big garden and eat organically for the rest of our lives to try and stave off future bouts of cancer.
When we planted our garden, I noticed we didn't have many honey bees. Growing up, they seemed to be everywhere, and 10 years ago I could only find a few here and there. The words "colony collapse" had just started creeping into the literature in those days, and I decided the best thing for me to do was raise my own bees to pollinate the garden.
One day, I looked up and I was more than a beekeeping hobbyist and a little bit less than a commercial beekeeper — and that's kind of where I like to be. We have hives in north Louisiana where I started this stuff, as well as with my brothers in Clinton and Hammond.
What kind of products do you make with the honey?
H: When we first started bottling honey, we gave it away as gifts. I pretty quickly realized that I was spending more money on keeping the bees and bottling the honey than the gifts were worth, so we started selling it in and around the large, metropolitan area of Ida (there are about 230 people in the town). People decided they liked our honey a lot.
I started this when I was 56, so now that I'm 66 the hives have gotten awfully heavy, but it's the best job I've ever had in my lifetime.
In the United States, you can't really say that honey is organic because bees fly within a 7-mile radius and you can't put up traffic lights and signs to direct the bees away from people's yards and flowers that may or may not have used pesticides. We're members of a group called Naturally Grown, though, which tells us all the things we can do to make sure our hives are natural. We don't use any chemicals and to our knowledge no one in the area where our bees would feed use those kinds of products either.
Our first and foremost product is our honey. The second thing we started doing is [making] lip balm using the beeswax, honey and mint that we grow at home. We also make candles from time to time. We plan to make some mead here this summer — we have a good crop of bees because we've had a good amount of rain this year. [Mead is] the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man. After we do that, we're going to try and convert some of that mead into honey vinegar.
I'm going to put in a lot of blackberries and persimmons, too, to get some good blackberry honey or persimmon honey. Also, I'll get to make some blackberry wine with leftover blackberries.
What advice would you give people interested in beekeeping?
H: The easiest way to see if you really have an interest is to find a local beekeeper's club (visit www.labeekeepers.org) — the only one I know of in the New Orleans area is in Covington, but it's worth checking in with them. Most beekeepers would be thrilled to have you come out and show you what they do and lend a hand. It's important to see if it's really for you before you invest any money and time. Beekeeping isn't cheap anymore, and it's a good deal of work to keep away pests. I have some folks who put in some new hives in small lots on Algiers Point that are doing really well.
When you're ready, jump in with both feet.