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A beekeeper's story
A local honey man describes how the buzzing insects got into his blood.
By Mary Landers Savannah Morning News
Ted Dennard's career hinges on chance encounters.
So does the color of the honey his bees produce, which reflects the flowers they've visited.
"The only color I don't think I've seen is blue," Dennard said. "You get green, red, orange, every shade of amber, brown and black. There are tons of variations all the way to white and clear."
Dennard first bumbled onto bees when he was 12, and a local beekeeper asked to keep his hives on the Dennard's forest retreat near Brunswick. Scrubby gallberry bushes grew there, and the beekeeper wanted his bees to make mild, floral honey.
The bees crawled all over the beekeeper, Roy Hightower. That scared Dennard, a self-described blond-haired boy with a silver spoon in his mouth. So did their stinging and buzzing.
But gradually he grew fascinated with the bees, the hives and the honey.
"This is what made me fall in love with bees," said Dennard, now 36, holding up a rectangular hive frame crawling with bees and packed with strawberry blond honey.
"See how red the honey is," he said, holding it up to the sun. "It's probably from maple."
Dennard still uses a smoker Hightower gave him. Attached to its metal fire pot is a leather bellows. But they didn't use that tool together long. About a year after the old beekeeper set up his hives in Brunswick, he died.
Dennard continued keeping bees but never considered it a career. Instead he went to the University of the South to study religion.
But bees entered his life again when he rented a cabin there from a retired minister who was a beekeeper. Still, Dennard thought the bees were just a hobby. He figured he'd be a college professor.
Then a two-year stint in the Peace Corps got him back in the buzz full time.
Assigned to teach beekeeping in Jamaica, he evolved from an intruder the locals insulted -- "white dog" and "blood clot" were some of the tamer epithets -- to become "Honeyman" or "Beesman."
He taught hundreds of Jamaicans, from middle school students to the man he considers his biggest success, Decton Hilton.
The dreadlocked Hilton was a great grant writer but a bad beekeeper. He turned to Dennard after he bought 200 hives without knowing how to care for them.
After Dennard's tutelage, Hilton taught beekeeping all over the Caribbean.
Dennard returned from Jamaica and went out West, leading adventure travel groups for high school kids. But he longed to be near the ocean. He came back to Georgia, settling in Savannah, about five years ago. Gradually he's set up his beekeeping business, giving up his day job as a naturalist at Oatland Island in April to devote his time to his Savannah Bee Co.
His 50 hives produce about 500 gallons of honey a year. He also markets lip balm and candles made from beeswax.
Dennard's been stung thousands of times but doesn't hold a grudge.
"There's no place I haven't been stung," he said. "Under the fingernails is bad. The armpit is bad."
His dad, Tom Dennard, says his son is obsessed with bees. The two started out keeping bees together, but Ted was more enthusiastic. The elder Dennard, a lawyer, still appreciates a good jar of honey, though.
"I just wait for him to supply me," he said.
Dennard loves the intricacies of bee life. He points out a dark, stingless drone crawling across a honeycomb he's pulled from his backyard hive in Ardsley Park.
Drones just eat and reproduce, he says, but they're not to be envied.
"They hang out in little rude-boy groups," Dennard said. "They spend their whole lives hanging out waiting for a virgin queen to fly by. When one flies by they chase her. Only the fastest drones can mate with her. If they do mate, their penis falls off. They fall down and die. And that's the best-case scenario."
Drones that never mate come to a less dramatic but still sad demise.
"One day in the fall they come back, and the workers won't let them in the hive. Then they starve to death because they never learned how to get nectar or pollen. They don't have a very good life."
Dennard good-naturedly lectured about beekeeping at the Sentient Bean last month when the coffeehouse sponsored a series of talks by "Ecological Superheroes" and named him one.
He's not the hero, the bees are, he said.
As the audience tasted his honeys -- buttery tupelo, mild gallberry and spicy palmetto -- he told them all about the work.
"A jar like this takes 2 million visits to flowers," Dennard said, holding a pound jar. A worker bee makes just a 12th of a teaspoon of honey in her whole life.
"Don't we feel frivolous just stuffing it down on a biscuit?" said Rebeccca Freeman.
That's the kind of appreciation Dennard likes to hear.
"They get in your blood, I'm telling you."
Environment reporter Mary Landers can be reached at 652-0337 or email@example.com
* Honeybees were first managed by humans around 5,000 B.C.E.
* They're highly social. A division of labor is strongly developed, with three castes:
Queen -- female reproductive, lays all the eggs in the colony.
Drone -- reproductive male.
Worker -- sterile female, does all foraging, larval rearing and colony maintenance.
* Bees' mouthparts form a "straw" that allows them to suck nectar.
* Wax is secreted from their bodies and used to construct their comb.
* Wax comb is used to store honey, pollen and house larvae and pupae.
* Workers readily defend their colony.
* Sting is barbed -- which is unique among insects -- to ensure maximum venom release.
* Stinger and venom sack is pulled from the body of the bee, which leads to the bee's death
* Bees communicate using a dance language inside the hive; it tells the direction, distance and quality of food.
* They're responsible for 80 percent of all insect pollination in the United States.
* Their honey is worth about $14.6 billion to U.S. agriculture.
* Bees from a single hive fly 55,000 miles to make one jar of honey.
* A queen bee can lay up to 3,000 eggs in one day -- that's 175,000-200,000 annually.
* One hive may hold up to 80,000 bees -- one queen, a few hundred drones (males), and the rest workers.
Sources: International Pollinator Systems, Savannah Bee Co.
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