This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

It was test time Saturday at the Caldwell County Public Library.

Notes away, pencils up, papers passed out. When the tests are graded, if the students pass, they’ll be beekeepers.

About 20 people came to the library Saturday to finish up a beginning beekeeping course offered by the Caldwell Beekeepers Association.

The test was the culmination of 16 hours of coursework, during which participants learned about everything from the history and biology of honeybees to methods for pollination and honey production.

The course has been offered in Caldwell for three years, offering an opportunity to anyone who registers to become a beekeeper certified by the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association.

That’s appropriate in a state with a beekeeping culture as big as North Carolina’s.

There are about 5,000 beekeepers here and plenty of opportunities to learn, too – you can take a beekeeping course in 26 counties, or take an online class through N.C. State.

The state – and Caldwell in particular – is a major producer of sourwood honey, the most popular variety of honey, NCSBA president Danny Jaynes said.

“Sourwood is the most popular honey in the world, and there’s an abundance of it in Caldwell County,” Jaynes said.

People sign up for beekeeping courses for a variety of reasons, with simple curiosity at the top of the list, he said.

“It’s more the excitement and the danger,” he said. “You know, bees that sting.”

That’s sort of how it happened for Jaynes.

He’s a native of North Carolina and a graduate of Caldwell County schools but spent 50 years away as an Army bandmaster.

When he came back, he wanted to start a vegetable garden. But there was just one problem: He was growing beautiful flowers, but getting absolutely no vegetables.

So he thought back to high school biology and realized the missing element: pollination.

The rest was history – sweet, sticky history. And it was an opportunity to learn.

“Some people ask me, ‘What’s the best lesson you learn from the honey bees?’ Well, the ability to get along with others,” Jaynes said.

Beekeepers are working with social animals that live in complex societies.

They’re also producing a food that will never go bad. Edible honey was found in King Tut’s tomb – it had been there for more than 2,000 years.

That’s what makes beekeeping so rewarding, Jaynes said.

“The pride in beekeeping,” he said, “is in producing a food that is pure.”

He hopes students left the course Saturday with the same pride.

“I’m convinced that that’s the case,” he said. “The whole course is designed to motivate them to be a good beekeeper.”