Borger sees beekeeping as plan for retirement
CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. — There are probably very few beekeepers who can say that their military draft number started them on a path to beekeeping. Yes, there is at least one.
Gerald R. “Jerry” Borger, a 65-year-old veteran of 28 years in the U. S. Air Force started telling his story at that point in his life. He had been asked how he got started in beekeeping.
Borger talked about his beekeeping here in an interview at a local restaurant as he sipped tea on a rainy afternoon.
He is the owner of Borger Apiaries, LLC in Christiansburg. This small business offers honey and bee products, nucs and queens, honey bee removal and swarm capture. He said it is a secondary venture.
Borger got his start in beekeeping through the New River Valley Beekeepers’ Association, a group of about 200 area beekeepers.
The Pennsylvania native recalled that he was headed to Penn State as a student near the end of the Vietnam War. When his draft number, 25, came up he changed paths. He said he decided to do the patriotic and prudent thing and joined the Air Force before he could be drafted.
As he became eligible for military retirement, he said he and his wife, Terry , a native of Vermont, began looking for a retirement home on the East Coast. Vermont and Pennsylvania were too cold for their tastes so they went south to Asheville, N.C., and worked their way up the Appalachian chain. They discovered Montgomery County, Va. with its college town, Blacksburg, and a mountainside they liked. It was the end of a year-long search.
Borger said that they bought their land in 1999 and moved into their newly built home in 2004. In 2002, they planted apple and pear trees on their mountainside.
He explained that there were no pastures or crops on the land. Just trees.
“I began wondering if there would be any bees to pollinate the fruit trees,” he said. “That is how I got started in beekeeping.”
Borger said he got started in beekeeping in 2006.
“I was sensitive to the learning curve it offered,” he noted. “I wanted to know the hows and whys.”
Borger learned that beekeepers have a single aim.
“The goal of beekeepers is to learn from the behavior of the bees what to do or to stop doing to help the bees maximize their numbers and their honey production,” he explained.
He feels fortunate in having Bill Whitlow, a beekeeper who did a number of unconventional things, as his mentor.
“From that I felt encouraged not to limit myself to what a book or others said,” he continued.
As he learned about beekeeping, Borger’s involvement in the New River Valley Beekeepers Association grew. He served as its president in 2009-10.
He said he wound up managing the group’s Beginning Beekeeper’s Course, a group effort that reaches out to people wanting learn to be beekeepers.
“It has evolved every year” he reported of his eight-year involvement in the program. “We try to make improvements every year.”
He outlined the course, explaining it is taught on two Saturdays in day-long sessions. The first is in February and the second is in April.
The February class introduces students to the pros and cons of beekeeping woodenware, and helps students make choices about which of the several options will suit them best.
They learn about bee diseases and pests, where to place hives and how to deal with neighbors with concerns about having bees nearby.
The teachers introduce the different products derived from honey, including honey and wax.
Borger stressed that the course is an NRVBA effort with many experienced beekeepers sharing their knowledge and experience.
He said the NRVBA is extremely fortunate to have Dr. Rick Fell, Virginia Tech professor emeritus and retired head of the entomology department, among its instructors.
He described Fell as “a world class honeybee expert.”
The classes are spaced far enough apart to allow the new beekeepers to order their woodenware, assemble it and prime and paint it.
He said it also allows them to order their bees.
Borger explained there are several ways to acquire bees. One is to catch a swarm, a cheap but difficult task based on luck. Bees don’t schedule their swarms.
Another is buying an established colony. This is not recommended as it is the most expensive and most intimidating for new beekeepers. It is also possible to buy packages of bees or nucleus or nuc colonies. Members of the NRVBA can buy their packages through the club. The packaged bees are delivered to club members at a single location. Members can then collect them and avoid the hassle of shipping bees to individuals.
The April class includes instruction in caring for bees and, weather permitting, offers a visit to an apiary. This allows hands-on experience for the students.
The course attracts over 50 people each year, Borger reported.
“I strongly recommend any prospective beekeeper join a local bee association,” he declared.
He noted that the NRVBA offers support to the new beekeepers like loaning extracting equipment and bee suits.
He suggested beekeepers have bee suits on hand for child visitors as well as adults. The club also has members willing to visit the new beekeepers and offer help as needed.
In addition, the club reaches out to the public by supplying speakers to organizations such as 4-H clubs, schools, and scouts. It encourages folks to try new things too.
“The longer I’m a beekeeper, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925