December 2014
Homeplace & Community

Master Apiarist Shows Pioneer Spirit

  Margie Smith was named 2014 Lady Beekeeper of the Year for Southern Alabama. Randy Hamann, a state apiary inspector for Alabama, presented the award.

Have you ever wanted to be an apiarist? Margie Smith did and, at age 5, her grandfather started to teach her all about bees. She was not afraid of the bees, and she found herself fascinated by them. She developed a love for beekeeping that would become a life passion.

Many of Smith’s family members were beekeepers. When she met Jim Smith, her future husband, she learned he, too, shared her love of bees. Ironically, his family had also been beekeepers.

Margie and Jim practiced apiculture for over 25 years.

"We were very proud to be called ‘bee farmers’ because farming is one of the most noble professions in this world," she explained.

The couple managed over 400 hives, selling their honey to wholesale packers. At one time, Jim was state president of the Alabama Beekeepers Association and Margie served on the state Board. In 1996, Margie was honored with the Alabama Beekeeper of the Year award.

Smith has been a longtime member of the Mobile County Beekeepers Association. After Jim’s death, Smith continued to work in the organization. Currently, she serves as secretary-treasurer. This year, Smith was named 2014 Lady Beekeeper of the Year for Southern Alabama. She writes a monthly e-newsletter called "What’s Happening Now." The newsletter is featured on the Mobile County Beekeepers’ Facebook page. She still enjoys teaching others about bees.

Smith currently serves as a SWARM dispatcher for Mobile County. She is on the Emergency Management list for both the fire department and local police. When swarms appear in people’s yards or barns, they call Smith, who then locates a local beekeeper to remove the swarm. She helps the beekeeper to gather 50 bees to be tested to see if any Africanized bees might have invaded this swarm. If the bees test negative for Africanized bee infestation, they are then put into the hives to begin pollinating plants and vegetables.

Recently, beekeepers in the Mobile area have had to contend with bears attacking their hives.

"It’s our fault," Smith said. "We have taken away the bears’ food sources, their land and their homes. Bears are usually shy, and they will run away at the first sight of humans. But when they are hungry, they come in closer to our houses looking for food. I feel sorry for them."

Smith worries about the approaching winter.

"Last winter was so cold and it stayed so long that when spring came, there was not enough time to build a strong workforce for pollination. Many plants, like some of the oaks, don’t have many acorns. Many fruits and nuts did not get pollinated, so there aren’t any nuts. Animals rely on the acorns, the fruits and the nuts. When there aren’t enough, the animals are hungry, so they come closer to humans. This always causes trouble," she explained.

Smith’s pioneer spirit is evident in everything she does. She works with other beekeepers to find creative ways to protect their hives from the bears. Some have built heavy-duty fencing around the hives. She has also worked with wildlife officials to find solutions to the problems created by hive invasion.

Smith owns land in Choctaw County and allows a friend to keep his bees on her property.

"We have to watch for two-legged ‘bears,’ too," she laughed.

In fact, many beekeepers keep locks on entrances because of human intrusions.

Smith has encountered another problem that perplexes her. Sometimes, hunters shoot into the hives, causing extensive damage.

"Why would hunters want to do this?" she said sadly. "I just can’t comprehend it. I don’t see why anyone would want to hurt God’s creatures!"

Smith loves the land and spends much time outdoors enjoying nature. She delights in telling about hearing a cougar crying out in the night in the wooded area surrounding her home in Turnerville, about 12 miles north of Mobile. She has also spotted bears near her home.

Smith has three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. All of her children live in other states, so she keeps herself busy with her chickens and her volunteerism. She is a certified Master Gardener who gives advice on plant and vegetable pollination. In addition, she speaks at various venues, educating the public on the importance of bees. She also assists the Mobile County Beekeepers Association when they have guest speakers.

"Beekeeping should mean a whole lot to everyone," she explained. "People need to love and protect bees because they are our friends. All of us depend upon bees! Without bees, we are in trouble. None of us would survive!"

Author’s Note: I am so sad to report that Margie Smith passed away on November 3, 2014. It was a joy to spend time with "Miss Margie" because she was a person who had devoted her life to making a difference. This delightful lady shared her knowledge and her passion for life with all who met her. I send my prayers and condolences to her children, family and friends. Rest in peace "Miss Margie"!

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville.