“You need to find a mentor before you even get bees. Go work with someone who has done it and is passionate (because) they'll come help if you have a problem. They want to save bees, not kill them. That's our goal,” Draper added, warning beginning beekeepers.
He became a beekeeper because he said he “read about it and after seeing stuff in news about honey bees’ decline, it sparked my interest.”
But with the best of intentions, this winter was a hard one for his first hive. After losing his queen, all of his bees died of the mid-winter cold.
This spring he started over. As a responsible beekeeper, Draper joined the Registered Ohio State Beekeepers Association.
“I purchased two three-pound packages of bees, one from California, the other from Georgia,” said Draper, of North Fairfield.
Two hives meant more expense with extra equipment such as more supers, a swarm trap and a fogger. Draper joined the Sandusky River Valley Beekeepers Association, which meets monthly in Clyde.
“Anyone can go to meetings even if you are not a member. If you have questions there is a basic beekeeping course offered two Saturdays each year, which is both locally and State sponsored.
“If you have any hive you have to register every year with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Each location has a $5 fee,” Draper said.
Two calls have already come to him for swarm removal through the OSBA website. One swarm was in Attica and the other was outside Norwalk. Draper was able to retrieve a third swarm from his parents' place, which has increased his number of hives to five.
Draper contacted Randy Eisenhower, an FFA advisor for Shelby and a farmer who keeps bees, as the person he went to for advice. Common questions are: What to look for in a queen in honeycomb; how to look at the frame and do an inspection for eggs; how to see if the queen is on the frame and could get hurt.
“That last answer is to leave the frame alone,” Draper said. “Learn how to use a smoker to calm them down so they don't attack. The smoke warns the bees to prepare to leave so they gorge on honey in case they have to move. The smoke is a distraction.”
Some beekeepers prefer to move among their bees without smoke. Draper said if smoke is your choice, “non-toxic pine needles, or other natural substances can be used.”
He has learned bees will travel up to three miles to forage for nectar and pollen.
Some beekeepers place hives in locations they know there are specific plants, or trees in blossom that will provide lots of nectar for bees to forage and thrive.
“The only way to tell the make-up of honey is to send to a lab in Texas that will evaluate and tell you,” Draper said.
Draper recommends if “you’re not afraid of bees and comfortable with them, if you have a desire to learn, find a mentor, attend a class (and) join a local meeting.” He emphasized it takes years of practice and anyone can make mistakes.
“You've got to learn,” he added.
The experience of any seasoned beekeeper is something Draper said he "would love to learn, to be able to sit down and learn everything I can, because that's the information we are all going to need in the future.”
“They’ve experienced the mistakes you’re going to make,” he added. “There is so much to learn.”
Draper would like to have 10 hives next year — if his present ones can survive the winter.
“I want to produce a honey not only good and pure for my family, but also to sell,” he said.
The second year he was in luck, having the pleasure of extracting 70 pounds of honey, which he sold already. Add to that, he earned a blue ribbon for his creamy honey entered in the open class at the Huron County Fair.
Husband, father, detective and beekeeper, Draper just may be a future expert, answering questions for the next generation, and in the process, keeping millions of bees alive.