Busy as a bee: Frick’s apiaries cause a stir | Business
Guy Fricks, 51, founder and operator of Fricks’ Apiaries west of Carrboro, says he starts his day at 5:30 a.m. and maybe finishes work by 11 p.m., but is quick to add, “I haven’t worked a day in my life since I started beekeeping 20 years ago.”
Shortly after moving to Chapel Hill in 2002, with his wife Ingrid, who was completing a Ph.D. in pharmacology, Fricks found himself owning two beehives given to him by a friend. As if he didn’t have enough to do, working, caring for two children and running the household while his wife went to school, he tried beekeeping and promptly failed when both hives died. Somehow that failure prompted him to keep going, and he sought guidance across the vine from Jack Tapp, one of Orange County’s leading beekeepers.
Fricks then apprenticed to Jack, ran his lumber shop and traveled around the state helping pollinate crops for farmers, selling equipment, making honey and anything else needed to make a living from bees. As an aside, after those long days, Fricks also raised his own bees at his home on Carroll Street in Carrboro. After a few years and a course Tapp took him to at Ohio State University, he gained the confidence to go it alone as a beekeeper while he had a job as a diesel mechanic.
After purchasing five acres and a home west of Carrboro in 2016, Fricks focused on bees full-time, which means seven days a week. A small grant from Pittsboro-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFIUSA.org) helped him get started with beekeeping. In the early years, his half-acre pasture was populated not only with bees, but also with goats, turkeys, and the mule Leroy. Now the goats and turkeys are gone and Leroy lives down the road at Red Tail Grain Farm.
Seven years later, after what he puts it, “a long string of bad decisions,” Fricks is the proud owner of hundreds of beehives and countless bees cultivated both on his own farm and on organic farms in Orange, Chatham and Counties Alamance where he harvests honey and farmers benefit from healthy, well cared for bees pollinating their crops.
While he says he loves working outdoors and alone, just get him talking about bees and his passion is evident and contagious. As a good southern storyteller, he quickly cast a spell over me. I learned more about the complex life of honeybees than I could have ever imagined in the two and a half hours I spent with him and Ingrid. He also told a great story about how Leroy the mule became the confidant of a neighbor who was going through a difficult time and how she talked to Leroy about her problems every day. Leroy meanwhile kept his own advice. The neighbor survived.
Manufacturing honey, beeswax candles, pollen and propolis products are not Frick’s main interests or even his main source of income, although you’ll find him at the Durham Farmer’s Market on Saturdays quietly peddling his unfiltered, aromatic honeys, including the unique and uniquely named one “Frickin’ Hot Honey, infused with locally sourced chillies. It’s his best seller and I vouch for the accuracy of the label’s slogan. Today he specializes in raising and selling high quality queen bees to fellow beekeepers in North and South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. For $40 each, he sells them direct from the farm or can ship them overnight. If you only stay in this region, the delivery is safe and the bees should also be better adapted to the climate.
Fricks is a jack of all trades from carpenter and welder to field researcher, geneticist, nutritionist, farmer and beekeeper. He notes that the only way to survive in this business is to do everything yourself (with significant help from a spouse), while admitting that “the effort I put into beekeeping was about $1,000.” earning $10,000 in another line of business.” His pasture is now planted with purple clover, which is to be followed by sunflowers this summer to provide more food for his on-site hives, as sugar water and commercial bee food have become quite expensive.
On his regular tour of the farms where his bees live, Fricks routinely checks each hive’s bees for viral load, nutrition, productivity and fertility, and splits the hives if they are too full. He takes detailed notes on each hive and selects queens based on their disease resistance, honey production, winter survivability, and temperament—yes, there are aggressive bees and nicer bees. Bee genetics are complex as a single queen honey bee can be easily fertilized by multiple drones and lays up to five hundred eggs per day.
As Fricks puts it, he’s become “queen-obsessed,” focusing on raising the healthiest, best-adjusted queens he can. While NC State’s beekeeping program evaluates and ranks queen bees nationwide, Fricks said, “I didn’t participate in that program. I follow old school protocols and rarely get complaints.”
His bees are Dr. Well known to David Tarpy, NC State beekeeping professor who is also director of the NC Master Beekeeper program and honey bee expert. Tarpy described how the strong triumvirate of the NC Beekeepers Association (ncbeekeepers.org), with its 4,000 members and 83 chapters, the NC Agriculture Department, and its NC State Bee Laboratory have sparked a strong interest in bees and beekeeping throughout North Carolina. Your association has more members than any other state beekeeping association. Beginning in 2016, the association introduced a special “Save the Bees” license plate that contributes $5 per license plate to the state of NC’s beekeeping program and related supportive efforts. The NC Beekeepers Association is also now conducting a campaign to raise $1 million to endow the first professorship in the country dedicated solely to bees.
Unfortunately, much of this burgeoning interest in bees is the result of the recent spate of Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disease (CCD), a phenomenon Tarpy himself named. Although, as Tarpy points out, that’s not the only problem bees are now facing, nor the only reason they’re dying.
“There’s a ‘principle of science’ that says, ‘For every complex problem there’s a simple solution that’s dead wrong,'” he said. “Not only is the intensive use of pesticides to blame, particularly the new neonictinoids now used to coat plant seeds, but also habitat loss resulting in poor bee nutrition, viruses or tiny insects like the deadly varroa -Mite, which now widely infect bees, has contributed to the loss of more than 30 percent of honey bees each year for at least the last decade. North Carolina has to import hundreds of pollinators each year just to keep our state’s massive blueberry crop fertilized, and all of these out-of-state hives are inspected by the NC Department of Agriculture.”
It’s a big and complicated business. As Fricks noted, this “emergency” of bee deaths was viewed by some as a reason to get into beekeeping and by others primarily as a business opportunity. There are many new beekeepers and bee supply companies. Not only can you now find gear from reputable suppliers like Millers in North Wilkesboro, but ubiquitous agricultural retailers like Tractor Supply sell gear and even bees. A quick look on the internet gives an idea of the scope of the business.
But Fricks continues to buy used bee boxes from retired beekeepers, build his own from lumber he’s harvested and milled on his land, and make his own transportation equipment. Working as hard as his bees has allowed him to say, “I hope I never have to put this down.”
He’s also developed strong relationships with local organic farmers like Union Grove Farms, where they grow grapes using regenerative farming methods and his bees thrive. Darren Knapp and Jane Saier’s RambleRill Farm is another bee paradise where Fricks maintains 20 healthy beehives. Committing these farms to all-organic practices assures Fricks that his bees are far less likely to die from pesticide use than from uncontrollable migration from nearby conventional farms.
On the warm late February day that I visited RambleRill, these bees were just beginning to fertilize the plum orchard, which was in full bloom with its myriad of light pink-purple blossoms, and provided the first food of spring for the hungry honey bees, while gathering pollen and nectar for their own survival.
Bees are complex, fascinating creatures in addition to how important they are to our food supply. Spend some time on YouTube to make learning easier. like dr Tarpy notes, the earliest known bee researcher was the Greek philosopher Aristotle, recording his observations some 2,400 years ago. Evidence of beekeeping goes back 7,000 years. There is still much to learn about their complicated behavior and what we need to do for their and our survival.