Thousands of new denizens are relocating to the Dunwoody Nature Center this spring, where their new designer digs are to be planted in a visible spot surrounded by walking trails. Visitors on a nature stroll can pause at their new homes to possibly hear the hum of the workers serving their queen. And, if lucky, one day they may sample the fruits of their labor: sweet honey.
Four new honey bee hives, resembling short dressers with several drawers, are being painted and prepped to be located near the entrance of Dunwoody Park by early April. Nature Center Executive Director Michael Cowan said corporate sponsors are being sought to help cover costs of caring for the bees, and logos may be painted on hives, too.
After the hives sit in the sun for a few days, Master Beekeeper Cindy Hodges will then don a white, baggy bee suit with a hooded veil. She will trek to the hives, emblazoned with original designs by Buckhead artist Nathan Seiden and Diana Flowers, and go through the delicate process of installing the queen and the bees.
“I will manage the bees and take care of everything inside,” said Hodges, a longtime Dunwoody resident. “The Nature Center has been an excellent location for honey bees over the years.”
Last year, there were three hives at the park that produced approximately 100 pounds of honey, said Cowan. That honey was harvested by Hodges, who has cared for the bees for years, and then bottled into 1-pound glass jars. The raw honey with a special Dunwoody Nature Center label can be yours by becoming a member at the $500 level.
“It’s the most expensive honey you can get,” Cowan said with smile. “But this kind is very scarce and the feedback we’ve gotten is great. And it goes to a great cause.”
The bees in those hives have mostly died, Cowan said, leading to this year’s replacement.
The painted hives and the labeled honey jars are not just for show. Cowan said they are part of the Nature Center’s mission to raise awareness about honey bees and other pollinators such as butterflies, birds and bats, and their importance to sustaining a healthy environment.
“You don’t get the pollination you need without the bees, so you don’t get the fruits and plants and flowers that you need,” Cowan said. “So, it’s very important from that standpoint to have the bees.”
Pollen is a yellow, powdery substance created by flowering plants as part of their reproductive process. When butterflies or honey bees land on a flower to eat its nectar, the pollen attaches to their hairy bodies. Called pollinators, these insects and other animals fly to different flowers for more food and transfer the pollen to fertilize them.
Fertilized plants grow into fruits, flowers, vegetables and nuts. Farmers depend on pollinators to sustain their crops and their livelihoods. And future generations of seeds and plants depend on pollinators.
Honey bees rely on nectar as food to sustain their hives, feed their queens and keep them alive during cold winter months. But honey bees and other pollinators are threatened by all kinds of diseases, widespread use of pesticides and rapid development that is paving over the flowers and plants they need to survive.
Last year, Dunwoody became a “Bee City,” the ninth city in Georgia to earn the designation from the national Bee City USA organization. Bee City USA promotes education about pollinators in urban areas. Criteria to be named a Bee City includes a City Council resolution, hosting pollinator awareness events and enhancing habitats.
The Nature Center recently opened its Crean Eco Classroom made from shipping containers. Located near the site of the new hives, the classroom’s roof will be planted with native plants, such as milkweed, to create a pollinator garden. Honey bees can travel roughly 3 miles searching for food, but they prefer to stay closer to home.
The bee theme continues this year during the annual Monarchs & Margaritas & Bees Knees fundraiser on April 25. The Bees Knees is a classic cocktail made with gin, lemon juice and, of course, some Dunwoody Nature Center honey.
Hodges, the Nature Center’s beekeeper, has been learning and teaching about bees for about 15 years. Her “Hodges Honey” has won awards locally, nationally and internationally, and she sells jars of it at various outlets. She said the science that goes with beekeeping, the fascinating creatures honey bees are and their importance to the environment inspires her to educate others about them.
One thing she wishes she could teach everyone not to use mosquito spray or other pesticides that kill the important pollinators. “Honey bees are fighting an uphill battle,” she said.
She started a new Dunwoody beekeeping group that meets the first Thursday of the month at the Nature Center. The group’s inaugural meeting in February attracted more than 20 people, she said, many of whom already have beehives in their yards. For more information, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Beekeeping is a wonderful hobby, it gets you outside and away from the TV,” she said. “I’m hoping to create a cozy club in Dunwoody where we get to know our neighbors and about good neighbor beekeeping.
“When people think of bees, their first thought is they sting. But they pollinate flowers and help Dunwoody to be a more beautiful place.”