Getting to Know Bees

Getting to Know Bees

Chris Smith, left, and Rick Manning install bees in top-bar hive. Photos by Eli Helbert

By Belle Crawford

Ricky Manning of Lick Log Branch Apiary in Fairview is a gentle man. Much of his calm, thoughtful nature is likely due to his ten-year relationship to bees. “Working with bees makes you forget about everything but what you’re doing in the moment,” he says. “It forces you to focus, which calms your nerves and inspires a deep respect for nature.”

Ten years ago, Manning worked in construction. “After I was diagnosed with cancer, I started looking for a lifestyle change,” he says. “My wife brought me a news article about a beekeeping exhibit taking place at the WNC State Fair.”

Manning spent three hours talking to one of the exhibitors at the fair, who eventually invited him to his home to witness a hive inspection. Manning eagerly accepted. “He gave me a bee suit to put on and told me not to be afraid of the bees. As soon as he lifted up one of the frames and began pointing out the difference between the drones and workers, I was addicted. I couldn’t get enough.”

That first meeting turned into a three-year mentorship during which Manning learned all he could about beekeeping. “I also did a lot of my own research,” he says. “I read everything I could get my hands on.” He studied the difference between native pollinators and honey bees, started attending Buncombe County Beekeepers Club meetings and watched YouTube videos, which is where he first learned of the top bar method. Top bar is a style of beekeeping that allows bees to build their comb naturally, rather than utilizing a beeswax foundation already in place. “It’s a style that came from Africa originally,” Manning says. “I recommend it because it is affordable and it can be less invasive for the bees.”

Manning believes anyone can get involved with bees. “A child as young as three or four can put on a child’s beekeeper’s suit and go out to watch their parents work with the bees,” he says. “It won’t be long before the child learns to handle the frames.”

Manning can be found on Saturdays at the Mills River Farmers Market, on Tuesdays at the West Asheville Tailgate Market and on Wednesdays at River Arts District Tailgate Market selling honey, beeswax, handmade beeswax lip balms and hand salves, and propolis tinctures. His real passion, however, lies in education. “Most people are scared of bees,” he says. “I want them to understand the importance of these insects and the fascinating relationship we can have with them.”

Similar to the mentorship he received after first discovering beekeeping at the state fair, Manning offers hands-on assistance to first-time beekeepers. “I consider it a public service to help others learn about bees,” he says. “A good beekeeper will never tell an aspiring beekeeper what to do. He will offer advice, give him the basics and encourage him to keep learning. The best relationship with bees is built on time and experimentation.”

Learn more and view Manning’s instructional YouTube videos at Find out more about beekeeping on Facebook at Asheville, NC Area Top Bar Hives, at Top Bar Hives Beekeepers of North Carolina and on Instagram at Lick Log Branch Apiaries.

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