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Honeybee-keeping a sweet deal for locals

Photo by Johnny Jackson 
Hampton resident Tom Bonnell keeps thousands of Italian honeybees in his backyard to help pollinate his many gardens.

Photo by Johnny Jackson Hampton resident Tom Bonnell keeps thousands of Italian honeybees in his backyard to help pollinate his many gardens.

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Tom Bonnell petted his miniature horse, as he greeted four small goats, who bleated at his arrival. Elsewhere on his seven-acre property, in rural Henry County, is a chicken coop, seven vegetable gardens, and two dozen man-made honeybee hives.

"If you're looking for a hobby, you'll never find one more fascinating; I haven't in my almost 66 years [of] living," said Bonnell, a beekeeping hobbyist.

This time of year is his busiest -- when the honeybees are most active, and he is readily cultivating the different blends and soil on his property.

Bonnell has started seven different gardens at his Hampton home, near the Panhandle area of Clayton County, and two of them already are sprouting. He said the others will come along in time.

The 65-year-old boasts of a lifetime of tilling the earth and raising greenhouse seedlings. But said he only recently got involved in beekeeping. About 12 years ago, he said, he took beekeeping on as a project to help grow and fertilize his garden.

The beekeeping has since grown into a passion for Bonnell, president of the Henry County Beekeepers. He maintains a dozen Italian honeybee hives, and extracts honey each August.

Henry County Beekeepers is a non-profit group, founded in October 2009, dedicated to promoting the interests of beekeeping by serving its members and the community through education and resource sharing. Bonnell said the organization serves members throughout the Southern Crescent area.

Maj. Jeff Barnett, a U.S. Marine who works with the U.S. Army, is a longtime beekeeping hobbyist. The major lives in McDonough, but has kept his 12 hives of Russian honeybees on Bonnell's property.

Barnett, also a member of the Henry County Beekeepers, said he carries his honeybees with him as often as he can on his various military assignments.

"I've done it pretty much all my life," Barnett said. "At every duty station I go to, I find a way to have those hives."

Bonnell said he continues to keep honeybees and associate with other beekeepers in the region, because "you never stop learning."

"Beekeeping is very controversial, because everybody has their own way of doing it," he said. "And the bees are very forgiving --they tend to recover from whatever we do to them."

Bonnell invites area residents interested in the beekeeping hobby, or wanting to learn more about honeybees, to attend one of the Henry County Beekeepers monthly meetings.

Henry County Beekeepers meets the second Tuesday of each month, according to Bonnell. The meetings start at 7 p.m., in the Henry County Government Public Safety Building Community Room, 116 Zack Hinton Pkwy., South in McDonough.

The organization plans to host a beekeepers' picnic on Saturday, May 21, for families and friends of the membership. It also plans to host a "Beekeepers Short Course," on Saturday, Oct. 15, from 8 a.m., until 5 p.m. at the public safety building. To learn more, visit www.henrycountybeekeepers.org. Also, learn more through the Georgia Beekeeping Association at www.gabeekeeping.com.