July 2006
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Beekeeper, Wally Sanders

by Grace Smith

 
  Sanders began his bee keeping operation in 2002 with just one hive, but it has grown into a 25-hive operation. Several of his hives have more than 5 "supers," or boxes used for honey retrieval.
A.I. Root, a renowned beekeeper, once described beekeeping as "a hazardous business, even amongst the most thorough and careful." While there are many risks associated with the occupation, Wally Sanders has found beekeeping an enjoyable and rewarding undertaking.

Sanders spent his childhood working on his family’s farm in Eva. After high school he attended college at Snead State until he transferred to the University of North Alabama, then Florence State, on a basketball scholarship. After college he held coaching jobs at several north Alabama schools and in 1984 he and his family settled in Decatur where he accepted a coaching position at Decatur High School. He coached there 15 years until his retirement in 1999.

Retirement took Sanders back to his roots in many ways. He said he didn’t really care to start farming like his family had, but he soon embraced his past and started a garden on the land his family had farmed when he was a boy. He didn’t move back to Eva, but he spent much of his time there caring for his garden. Retirement had carried Sanders to a familiar place but it would soon introduce him to a not-so-familiar hobby.

After three years, Sanders decided to grow an orchard on the property. During the following five years he toiled over his land until he had an orchard of peaches, berries, muscadines and apple trees. However, in 2004 his operation began to shift its focus.

 
Beekeeper Wally Sanders, reminisces about his childhood as he admires several of his beehives located at the back of the 24-acre plot his family farmed when he was young.  
"A friend told me, ‘you gotta have some bees if you’re going to have an orchard’," Sanders said. "So I bought a hive, but I didn’t know what I was doing and wax moths got in and destroyed it."

Sanders didn’t give up. He started reading and studying about bees and beekeeping. Each year he added more hives and each year he had growing success.

Now Sanders has 25 hives and he says it has grown into quite a bit of work. "Bees require a lot more time than the orchard," he said. "But I enjoy them. Everything about a hive has rhyme and reason. There’s a structure to it."

Sanders’ farm covers 24 acres, some of which is planted in beans. The orchard sits adjacent to a barn he has recently built. Sanders said he had wanted to build the barn for a while and he had always wanted an apartment in his barn.

"Last fall I decided I was just going to build the barn and hold off on the apartment until later," Sanders said. "I built the barn and my granddaughter asked if I was going to have something that flushed. I decided I better go ahead and build the apartment too."

The apartment sits on top of the barn and comes complete with multiple bathrooms, a kitchen, sleeping and living area. Some of the doors and furniture in the living quarters came from the old high school in Eva. Sanders said the bottom part would eventually be used to work his bees.

 
  Sander’s barn, built last fall, peers behind several of his beehives. The bright red barn features an area for his bee work and an upstairs living space.
A deck outside his apartment overlooks his orchard and a few of his hives. Those hives sit alongside a rustic road lined with Tulip Poplar trees that winds through Sanders’ scenic 24-acre plot and ends at the back of the property where a creek meanders.

Sanders has built a fire pit and seating areas near the creek. He said the hideaway gets much use as it is a popular spot for family, friends and his Sunday school class members to gather.

Perhaps one of the most interesting features of Sanders’ operation is its name. Sanders said his son helped him come up with the name.

"I had to come up with a name for the farm, so I asked my son. He’s really creative," Sanders said. "He said he’d think about it and get back to me. Well, he told me one day he’d come up with a name, Rednectar Honey Farm."

Sanders said he didn’t really like the name at first, but after a while it started to grow on him so he decided Rednectar Honey Farm would in fact be the farm’s name.

His fruit trees, Tulip Poplar trees and privet hedges are his bees’ main source of nectar. He said his harvest is determined by the success of those plants and trees. Sanders said he retrieved 103 gallons of honey last year. But this year he said his harvest will be down.

"We had a crazy spring," Sanders said. "We had about two weeks of winter weather. Many of the fruit trees had already bloomed out so the bees didn’t have any nectar for a while."

Sanders said rain and hail washed much of the nectar away after the Tulip Poplar trees and privet hedge bloomed. Because the nectar supply was so low, he said he may only retrieve about 50 to 60 gallons of honey this year.

Despite the uncooperative weather, Sanders said his bees are healthy and he anticipates better weather next year.

Beekeeping can be a hazardous business, but Sanders can overlook the risks of the occupation because of the great reward he’s received working with his bees.

"The first year I started, the bees got under my veil and I probably got stung five times," he said. "I’ve been stung so often now, it doesn’t really even hurt anymore.

Grace Smith is an AFC intern.