Hebert Honey Farm Keeps the Family Busy as Bees
Someone has to keep the bees. But then someone has to be the keeper of the beekeeper.
In the case of the Hebert family, that person would be Paula.
Paula and Richard Hebert of DeRidder have been married for nearly three decades, and Paula explains that over the years her restless husband has led the couple into all sorts of hobbies and activities. The list includes sports, rodeo, hunting, fishing, farming quail, raising goats and more.
But amid all that experience and experimentation, one avocation has kept their attention above all the others: beekeeping.
The couple were spotted at their booth during the Beauregard Parish Fair last month. Their children, 21-year- old Klancy and 26-year-old Kirk, were also on hand to help educate the hundreds of visiting students about the benefits of bees to the environment and the ag economy.
“We have a lot of fun with the bees,” Paula said. “But at our house there’s always something new going on, there’s always somebody over, and we’re never just standing around doing nothing.”
The Heberts had their hands full tending to the curious students who came by the booth in droves. Some of them had never seen honeybees before, which is not surprising since the native bee population has been battling deadly mites and other afflictions for more than a decade.
They were able to look into a glass-encased honeycomb as the bees went about their work, and they were able to listen through a small hole at the buzz of thousands of tiny wings flapping faster than the eye could see. They identified the queen bee, examined a jar full of pure honey and felt the texture of beeswax.
Richard explained to the students that while bees have had to fight for survival, proper management and the popularity of beekeeping have contributed to signs of a comeback.
“They’re not back to where they really need to be,” Richard said, “but a lot of people in our state are taking this up as a hobby and really being vigilant about making sure the bees maintain their critical role in the habitat, the ecology and the economy.”
Richard is heavily involved in the Southwest Louisiana Beekeepers Association as the organization’s president, as well as being an active member of the Louisiana Beekeepers Association.
He and other apiary enthusiasts work with LSU AgCenter Parish Agent Keith Hawkins to conduct seminars, classes and demonstrations for the public to encourage participation in helping the native bee population thrive.
According to Hawkins, there are more than 15 local beekeeping clubs located across the state, compared to just a few a decade ago. Over 700 beekeepers are currently registered with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
The way Richard sees it, the bees need all the help they can get.
“Pesticides and mites and the movement to larger farms have all placed a lot of pressure on the bees,” he said. “They’re a very important part of our ecological system and they have a great impact on our agricultural production as well.”
Richard didn’t really get into beekeeping with the intention of saving the world. He had planted some clover many years ago and noticed it wasn’t growing as robustly as he’d hoped.
So he decided to acquire his own hive to boost the pollination process. He began a quest to learn all there is to learn about tending to bees. Then he slipped on a pair of overalls and some gloves, taped up his sleeves and went searching for a hive. He found one in an old rusty 55-gal- lon drum, cut it out and brought it back home.
Today, he maintains about 50 hives on his 38 acres, which is about all he can handle as a part-time operator.
Richard’s full-time job is at PCA where he works as a millwright. He has found the bees offer advantages beyond merely providing pollination.
“I keep a few hives between my house and the plant, so sometimes on my way home I’ll stop by the hives and see how they’re doing, watch them work, and just walk around and listen to them hum. It’s very relaxing,” he said, adding that the bees don’t talk back, they don’t complain and they never show up late.
At the Beauregard Parish Fair, the Heberts displayed photographs of the beekeeping process and the equipment used to gather and spin the honey. There were glass-encased honeycombs, frames, hives and samples of beeswax and jars of honey.
Richard explained to the students that Louisiana honeybees are among the most prolific producers of honey in the country. Chinese tallow trees, which are often seen as a nuisance to farmers and landowners, happen to be great sources of nectar. Each colony in Louisiana can produce an average of 80-90 pounds of honey.
Of course, many students wanted to know the mil- lion dollar question: “How many times have you gotten stung,” and the follow-up, “Does it hurt?”
Richard replied that despite their reputation, honey- bees are typically gentle little creatures. And while it doesn’t happen often, there are times when an agitated bee goes on the attack.
“I’ve been stung a few times, but it’s not that bad,” he said.
The visitors were especially intrigued by the protective bee suit on display, which can resemble a space suit in the imagination of a child.
The suit and facial netting are white, wide and billowy to allow maximum ventilation when they’re worn during the spring and summer months at the height of the honey harvesting season.
“That’s probably the worst thing about beekeeping,” he said. “It can get really hot in that suit. But you want to make sure you’re protected because you never know when they might be a little ornery.”
But, he concluded, the taste of pure, golden, native Louisiana honey makes it all worthwhile.
To read the entire November issue of Louisiana Country, click here.