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While most people would run from bees, fearing their sting, Robert Sherman White is more likely to run toward them. White has entomomania, an excessive enthusiasm for insects — specifically bees.

“I don’t know why people are afraid of them,” he said. “To me, they are fascinating.

“What’s fascinating about bees is their toughness — they are a resilient creature. They attempt to survive in any environment, thriving to make a home out of nothing. Bees will live in a mailbox, a hollow tree or even a house.”

White is a bee keeper, or apiarist, and has had as many as 20 hives of the striped insects on his property in Ames in Liberty County.

Rober White Sherman talks about the build up on the bee hives

Robert Sherman White tends his bees at his Liberty County home. White is a self-professed entomomaniac with a passion for bees.

“I’m down to three hives now,” he said, citing Hurricane Harvey.

Being an apiarist is not an easy feat, White said.

“There are multiple things that will kill your hives,” he said. “For starters, ants are my biggest enemy, from the crazy little red ones to big, fuzzy black ones. They march into a hive and take over, pushing my bees out of their home. There is nothing I can do about protecting the bees because using pesticides and insecticides are harmful to the bees. Their sole purpose is to pollinate.”

White said weather is another thing that destroys the hives.

“Hurricane Harvey dumped lots of water on my land and the surrounding area,” he said. “I’m sure it was God’s work. They have plenty of water to drink, but no nectar to feast on.

“For the past few months, I’ve been feeding my bees a simple syrup of sugar water, and who doesn’t like sugar water? That’s the main ingredient to a Southern delicacy — sweet tea.”

White builds his own hives and said modern technology has perfected the process of manufacturing bees, hives, wax and honey.

White prepares to suit up after subduing the bees to search for the queen.“Extracting honey is easy as pie, since I have a centrifuge that can extract honey from up to eight frames at a time,” he said. “It can hold up to 25 gallons of honey.”

White got into beekeeping when he attended the Liberty County Bee Class at a local church. He said that the minute he walked into the classroom, he was struck by the wealth of knowledge the instructor and his classmates had.

“The bees captured my heart,” he said.

That was two years ago, and apiarism has become a consuming passion. White said he welcomes the chance to talk about bees with visitors, as long as they don’t mind suiting up in the bulky protective gear. The bee suits are layered, yet lightweight and airy. While the bees are not aggressive, getting stung is always a possibility.

“I have to be patient and careful — they can sense a fool in a minute,” he said.

White said that going to the hives is really invading the bees’ privacy.

“We are intruders right now, so we need to subdue the bees,” he said.

White ignites a smoker and proceeds to calm the bees by producing smoke. Instead of swarming, the bees peacefully move throughout the hives.

White maneuvers through the boxes looking for the elusive queen.

“I have yet to master the concept of manufacturing queens,” he said “If I can get that down, my hives would double in a month’s time.”   

It is almost impossible to identify her among the thousands of bees in the colony, White said.

The hives contain rows of vertical frames. When White pulls them out, they are covered in honey and bees. However, the frames are not all uniform. Some are covered with white, translucent film while others are packed with a muddy, brown dirt. The translucent cells cover the honey that the bees are storing for the winter. The dirt looking cells are called the broods, the incubators where the hatchlings are being taken care of.

After searching in vain through the hives for a queen, White decides to call it quits. He will be back soon — he can’t stay away.

Story and photos by Shane Proctor

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