By Debbie Adams
Mark Paradis, who established Paradis Apiary just over a year ago in his backyard in Vinton, says “My girls have been some workers” in recent months, leading him to believe he will be harvesting over 100 pounds of honey from his seven hives this year. The honey is not only absolutely delicious, but a beautiful light amber in color—“show quality honey.”
He has developed an avid interest in beekeeping since his daughter McKenna, “got him into it,” a couple of years ago.
She was one of the original members of the William Byrd Middle School Beekeeper’s Club which got its start in September 2017 after teacher-librarian Heather Balsley became intrigued with bees after attending a meeting at the Roanoke Co-op.
McKenna got in touch with the Blue Ridge Beekeeping Association, which led to establishing the school club. Their slogan is “Save the Bees, please.” Formation of the club led to the installation of hives on the middle and high school campus in April 2018. Thousands of bees were delivered from Georgia to stock those hives.
The Paradis Apiary bees are local bees. Paradis started out with about 10,000 bees, which came from a friend. That number has increased tenfold. He has even rescued swarms of bees locally, including some from near the front door of the Lancerlot.
Paradis is hoping more residents of the town of Vinton will take up the hobby in order to save the bees. He has suggested Vinton adopt the slogan: “The Town of Vinton is a Bee friendly town.”
Bees have been in decline for several years, but the heat this summer seems to have invigorated the bees in his hives and led to an amazing production of honey.
Each hive has a queen who is the only female in the hive who can reproduce—that is her only function; she mates with drones from other hives and lays eggs—a couple of thousand a day, which mature into worker bees. Paradis says the queen is the key to the success of the hive: “Happy queen, happy colony.”
Worker bees fill a host of exhausting roles 24 hours a day as nurses, housekeepers, caretakers of the queen, HVAC specialists who flap their wings continually to cool or warm the queen (up to 11,000 times per minute which causes the buzzing sound), security guards, graveyard bees who remove dead bees from the hive, and foragers and pollinators who go out and bring back pollen.
Pollination is the primary function of the bee. Honey is the by-product of beekeeping. Bees pollinate more than 100 crops in the United States. Paradis says bees generally stay within a three to five-mile radius of their hive. He believes much of his honey comes from locust trees which are plentiful in the area.
Paradis and his daughter are very vocal bee advocates, determined to rescue bees endangered by severe weather and negative human effects on the environment and to educate the public on the importance of bees. Many hives in Virginia have died in recent years due to both severe weather and Colony Collapse Disorder, thought to be caused by pesticides commonly used in the United States and other parts of the world, but banned in much of Europe.
“It’s hard to raise bees with so many toxins in the environment,” Paradis said.
The Paradis family has lived in Vinton for 20 years and owns about 1.7 acres of partially wooded land. Beehives do best in full sun, so they have placed them to receive the most sunlight possible.
They have made changes to their property to accommodate the bees. Although they live close to streams in Vinton, they also have a fish and frog pond in their yard and feed their bees sugar water. They try to plant flowers and other plants that are attractive to bees.
Individuals who try to eradicate dandelions and clover from their yards should realize that dandelions and clover are two bee favorites. Dandelions are 36 percent sugar—the highest concentration in spring flowers.
“I hope I can encourage others to keep bees in Vinton,” said Paradis. “I’ll even help them get started through the Blue Ridge Beekeepers.”
He is now the president of the Blue Ridge Beekeeping Association, one of the oldest running bee clubs in the Blue Ridge area. The BRBA has over 300 years of combined experience and welcomes beginner and master beekeepers alike.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, the association met on the third Thursday of each month in Salem with a guest speaker. Now they are meeting virtually. The Blue Ridge group combines with the Botetourt Beekeepers Association to teach a beginning beekeeping class each spring.
Paradis has a Facebook page filled with information and videos on honeybees and their “learning curve of being new beekeepers” at “Paradis Apiary in the Town of Vinton, Virginia.” Keep your eye out on the Facebook page for when the honey goes on sale. You don’t want to miss it—the best honey you have ever tasted!
A tidbit of information posted on the Facebook page recently noted that “bees sleep five to eight hours a day, sometimes in flowers, and like to sleep close to other bees, holding each other’s feet.”
The Town of Vinton has some regulations about beekeeping related to distances from property lines, the number of hives permitted, and providing adequate access to water. The town sends out an officer to make sure regulations are followed when setting up a hive. There is currently no charge for a beekeeping permit. The town wants to “protect the pollinators in Vinton.”
Check the July 30 edition of the Vinton Messenger for another article on the Paradis Apiary from their honey harvest on July 25.