David Bailey

David Bailey owns and operates Bailey’s Bee Supply at Boone Square in Hillsborough. The town has an active beekeeper community and is celebrating Pollinator Week next week.

 

It seems almost cartoonish to think about, but bears really do go after honey when they get the opportunity. David Bailey, who owns and operates Bailey’s Bee Supply in Hillsborough, builds what he calls “bear-proof trailers” to set in areas north and south of Hillsborough for weeks at a time. 

Once the battery on his phone was charged enough, Bailey showed a video of one of his bear-proof trailers, which are converted from horse and cattle trailers. Small holes have been drilled through the sides to allow the bees to pass in and out. Inside, several hive boxes are stacked on each side with an aisle in between to allow Bailey to inspect the bees’ work.

“Bears are in the mountains and down east, and there have been some sightings of bears,” Bailey said. “I’ve had some customer chatter about them in this area. We actually had some hives destroyed in northern Orange County this past winter due to bears. I pulled off one of my farms in this farther north farm that had bears on it. I didn’t have any bear protection, so I pulled my hives off.”

Bailey would be the first to tell you that you that most beekeepers won’t need bear-proof trailers. Whether it’s being done as a hobby, to supplement income, or if you’re a dedicated fan of honey, most people are fine with a more basic list of supplies, all of which can be found at Bailey’s shop in Boone Square.

But more than anything else, you need to know what you’re doing. “The one thing that we stress is education,” Bailey said. “You don’t just jump into beekeeping. Education is the best way for keeping the bees alive. I want a customer for 15 to 20 years. The people that don’t get educated are my customers for two, three, maybe four years, and then they throw their hands up because they’re tired of buying bees every year.”

This year marks Bailey’s ninth year in the bee supply business, but he got into beekeeping a couple of years prior to that. His mother had severe rheumatoid arthritis and he had heard that bee stings were good for arthritis.

“I decided to get into beekeeping to see if I could turn it into a business.”

Another supplier sold his business to Bailey and he set up his shop in a 700-square-foot building in Daniel Boone Village. He now operates out of a 3,700-square-foot space, and has one full-time and up to 14 part-time employees, depending on how busy the store is.

He will sell excess honey from his customers with their label on it in his store, adding that people come from Greensboro and Raleigh to get the local honey. “If it’s within 100 miles, it’s considered local for allergies,” Bailey said.

But the bread and butter of this honey business is selling beekeeping supplies. “We do a lot of first-time beekeepers. We’re very active with the bee clubs in North Carolina. We teach a bee school ourselves, non- COVID. We didn’t teach this past year because of COVID. Most clubs teach their bee schools in the winter, starting in January and running them to March. Springtime is the best time to start bees and that’s when bees are available to buy, in late March, early April and May. That’s why we run our bee schools from January to March. We promote the local clubs. We offer discounts to new beekeepers to get them started. We also do an educational newsletter on our website.”

The Bailey Bee Supply website is packed full with educational articles and information about beekeeping, trends, honey, and events. It is also a valuable resource for protecting bees against pests and other dangers, like varroa mites and beetles. The site also provides content and experiences with products to protect hives from disease and infestations.

Bailey said the cost for taking up beekeeping can vary greatly. “To go to bee school, get all the safety equipment you need, which includes a veil, smoker, a jacket, can range anywhere from $800 to $1,500, depending on if you buy it all unassembled and put it together yourself. We offer it painted and already put together, but it costs more because of our labor.

He recommends people new to beekeeping start with two bee hives so you will have something to compare each hive. Bailey said many people want to start with one hive and may not know that one hive helps the other. If one hive dwindles in number of bees, the stronger one will bolster the weaker one.

“It’s all a part of the educational component we feel so strongly about,” Bailey said.

He added that beekeeping is not something you can partially commit to. It takes regular care and time, but can still be a great way to relax. Bailey said he loves honey.

Back to the bear-proof trailers, Bailey said the flavor of honey is dependent on the kind of pollen and nectar collected by the bees, which is why he likes to be able to move his hives from one area to another.