Some people say watching fish glide around their tank is relaxing. Eugene Bracewell prefers to watch bees.
"I can sit at the end of a runway and watch the planes take off and land; it is interesting," said the Grovetown man. "I can sit at the end of a beehive and do the same thing. ... I can just sit here and watch them."
Bracewell has plenty of bees to watch -- eight hives on his 2.7-acre Red Bud Drive property and six more at a friend's property near Pumpkin Center.
He's one of several Columbia County beekeepers, said Charles Phillips, a retired county extension agent who oversees the 4-H Junior Beekeepers Club. A beekeeper himself, Phillips also is the president of the Clarks Hill Beekeepers Association.
"People do it more often than you think," Phillips said. "You'd be surprised at how many people have bees."
Many start keeping bees because their fathers or grandfathers did and might only keep a few hives. But most beekeepers continue the hobby for the byproduct: honey.
Danny Byrd, of Lincolnton, Ga., has more than 100 active beehives on property in five area counties.
When he started 10 years ago, Byrd said, "I got just one box of bees to pollinate my garden at my house. I kind of fell in love with the stuff."
A bricklayer by trade, Byrd also sells honey produced by his bees. He sets up on the side of Lewiston Road near Interstate 20 Thursday through Saturday to sell honey in addition to jams, jellies, baked goods and vegetables.
Bracewell, who is a member of the beekeeping association, said he enjoys working with the bees more than the honey.
"I'm more interested to see what the bees do than anything else," Bracewell said. "Messing with that honey is work. It is a sticky business. ... I like to work with the bees. I don't particularly like the idea of selling honey."
But the honey, which is the bees' food source, has to be removed or the hive will eventually outgrow the wooden hives Bracewell hand-makes and swarm in search of a new home.
Every spring, Bracewell dons his protective gear and "robs" most of the honey from his hives. He'll get several gallons of honey from each healthy hive. After removing the wax cap from the honeycomb, he extracts and strains the honey and puts it into jars or bottles. He then sells some but gives away most.
Bracewell said he stumbled across a beekeeping book in the then-Augusta College library in 1975.
"I flipped through the pages on how you do it and said, 'Darn, I can do that,'" he said. "So I read it. Lo and behold, I got hooked on it."
He bought two swarms from Sears for $18.75, which grew to 20 to 25 hives before moving from his South Augusta home in 1990. Contracting the construction of his current home, Bracewell said he neglected the six hives he brought to his new home and they died off.
Bracewell rediscovered the hobby a few years ago. He said he visits his hives three or four times each day to watch or maintain them, including killing bothersome pests.
Bracewell said he's endured his share of stings while collecting honey or otherwise maintaining the hives.
"I've been stung a lot," Bracewell said. "When I first started beekeeping, I used to get stung like 10 or 15 or 20 times in an outing."
Phillips said beekeepers or those interested in starting are welcome at the association meetings, held monthly or bi-monthly.
"Everybody is welcome, even if they don't have bees," Phillips said. "The people they'll meet can help them get started, show them how to work the bees."
Contact Phillips at (706) 541-2152 or call the extension office at (706) 868-3413.
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