Two years ago, Daryl Pichoff was tending his small garden in Foley when he stumbled across his passion … beekeeping.
“I was harvesting cucumbers when I noticed some of them were curling and were not nice and long and straight like they were supposed to be,” he says.
Pichoff began researching the cause of his dilemma and discovered that cucumbers need to be pollinated in three distinct areas or they will curl in the middle, just like his were doing.
“So I began researching the best way to pollinate my cucumbers,” he says. The answer, of course, was honeybees.
That would lead him to the Baldwin County Beekeeper Association for advice. He eventually joined and is now the secretary/treasurer.
Two years later, Pichoff now has around 600,000 to 700,000 bees in 15 hives across Baldwin County, including hives in Robertsdale, Bon Secour, Elberta and Foley. He and his wife Susan sell honey and wax through their business, Sweet Bee Farm. The business also offers swarm removal.
A carpenter by trade, Pichoff now builds and sells what are known as Langstroth hives.
Originally bees were kept in skeps, which closely resemble the bees’ natural habitat, but require that they be destroyed to collect the honey.
Langstroth hives were built to be reused and consist of wooden boxes with frames inside, where worker bees produce honey and wax. The frames can be removed, honey and wax collected, then returned to the hive, where the process starts over.
A typical hive can house up to 60,000 bees, including about 40,000 to 50,000 workers, whose job it is to gather nectar and produce honey and wax, and about 1,000 drones, whose sole responsibility is to tend to the lone queen in the hive.
“It really is a complex and fascinating society,” Pichoff says. “There’s just an amazing order to things within the colony.”
The Baldwin County Beekeeper Association was established more than 50 years ago by Robertsdale Beekeeper Rex Aldridge who, at age 92, is the association’s oldest member.
Pichoff says he still gets together with Aldridge about once a week to help him with his hives.
“He’s still pretty sharp, but can’t do a lot of heavy lifting,” Pichoff says, “so I do it for him.”
In addition to being a forum for beekeepers to share information, the association also hosts seminars and classes, such as the Beginners Beekeepers Course, which is being held this week in Robertsdale.
“Our main focus is to generate interest in beekeeping,” Pichoff says, “and to raise awareness in hopes that people will be more friendly to bees — and we’ve come a long way.”
Through the association, Pichoff says, they have begun working with farmers, setting up hives on farms as a natural way to pollinate crops. They also educate farmers about the dangers of using pesticides. The association has even been able to reach out to pesticide companies.
“Honeybees are responsible for 30 percent of our food supply through the pollination of crops,” he says. “I think farmers and pesticide companies realize that without bees, they would not have any crops to work.