A stained, white jumpsuit replaced a red tie and sports coat while scuffed brown boots replaced shiny black dress shoes. He placed a hat and veil over his head before preparing to meet the bees with a smoker — his rectangular glasses still visible under the black netting.
From 8 to 11:30 a.m., Ward Hicks teaches public relations to BYU-Idaho’s communication students. At home, he tends to hives in his backyard where 20,000 bees work and live.
Beekeeping runs in Hick’s blood. His ancestors hauled covered wagons filled with honey bees into southeast Utah as part of a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When he was 14, Mary Y. Smith, Hick’s grandmother, taught him the family trade.
“She was a bee keepress,” Hicks said. “We went to a farm catalog — Sears I think it was. We ordered the parts to build a hive. We ordered the bees and they came in a package … about 12,000 bees in a cage.”
The ancestral passion for beekeeping followed Hicks into his own adult life, where he maintains multiple bee colonies on a daily basis.
Over tall green grass, bees swirled around layers of wooden boxes Hicks made himself. He weaved through the stacks with a bee smoker in hand and, after a few minutes, more and more bees settled back into their hives.
Without gloves, Hicks removed the lid from a box, revealing seven or more wooden frames of crawling bees. At a slow pace, he pulled one out and pointed at the crawlers.
“Welcome to the insect world,” said Hicks with a smile.
He finds taking care of the bees therapeutic in stressful times.
“It’s nice to do something with your hands,” Hicks said. “You get out here and you open the hive and you smell the fresh nectar and you see the queen and the bees, watch what they’re doing … I come out here and it just rejuvenates me.”
According to Hicks, there’s a spirit about the hive.
With over 40 years of experience, Hicks sells honey at a local level, to friends and family, and even the Rexburg Farmer’s Market and Experience Rexburg. He also teaches beekeeping classes to beginners.
According to Hicks, every beekeeper still encounters complications with nature.
“It’s in the wintertime that they become most fragile,” said Hicks. “So I try to wrap them, I put insulation on them, feed them extra, I give them their medicines and stuff. No matter what I do, I still have some hives that die.”
To make up for losses during the colder months, Hicks splits up the hives, which helps them keep moving and bringing in pollen.
Beyond weather, Hicks worries about his bees getting sick. Varroa mites, a common insect the size of the head of a pin, can attach themselves to the bees and inject a virus. According to Bee Aware, colonies with a small mite infestation don’t show many symptoms. Hicks’s bees, on the other hand, get diarrhea.
“They get stick to their stomach,” he said, placing a slab of yellow, Laffy Taffy-like medicine on a honeycomb. “So we gotta kill a little bug on a big bug.”
The medicine, according to Hicks, releases fumes for that exact purpose.
This year Hicks commented that his bees are doing well, gathering resources and hunkering down.
“It’s all looking positive,” said Hicks.
The challenges are worth it for his favorite part about beekeeping: the harvest. Each year, Hicks extracts honeycomb from the hives and bites in raw, honey dripping from the sides.
“It has a wonderful fragrance and aroma of flowers,” Hicks explained. There’s nothing better than eating raw honey.”