Gastonia Beekeeper Says Beehives Destroyed By Vandals

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Tom Parnelle’s heart sank as he examined the remains of his beehives on Saturday morning.

The Gastonia beekeeper has invested a decade in maintaining more than a dozen honeybee colonies with partner Sean McCaffrey on a quiet lot on Lee Street.

It’s a hobby that the IT pro has developed over time into a cute sideline that usually produces enough honey annually, which equates to about $ 3,000 in sales, to give Parnelle’s family a well-deserved vacation.

However, he arrived on Saturday and found that his 15 beehives had overturned and bees were scattered in the cold and were dying.

“They all gather in the beehive and wiggle to stay warm and protect the queen,” said Parnelle. “But when the hives are open and the bees are scattered, they’re just too cold and they die pretty quickly.”

Black bears and other animals looking for a light winter meal can destroy beehives, Parnelle said, and high winds can bring down colonies as well, but they didn’t in this case either. He said vandals destroyed the beehives and his nearby winter vegetable garden sometime late Friday night.

His evidence? His beehives were splayed in different directions while his hardy winter vegetables were plucked and thrown aside.

What's left of Gastonia beekeeper Tom Parnelle's beehives on Lee Street.

“The kicker, however, was that the blocks and 4×4 lumber that I sit the beehives on were moved and stacked to the side pretty neatly,” Parnelle said. “I’m pretty sure a bear can’t.”

He compared the culprits to “cow dumpers,” teenagers who, in the midst of a pandemic, had little to do to get involved in mischief on Friday night. That’s just a theory, however, and Parnelle said he didn’t know who or why anyone would destroy his hives. Parnelle filed a report with the Gastonia Police Department but said he was not optimistic that the vandals could be identified.

The lost vegetable crop isn’t a huge loss, Parnelle said, as he’s already preparing to plant his spring crop early next month, but the bees are a different matter. Each beehive contains a queen, hundreds of male drones and thousands of female workers, for a total of 12,000 to 15,000 bees per beehive during the winter months.

That means more than 200,000 bees will die and there is little Parnelle can do about it.

His smartest course of action is to wait until spring to transplant the kernel, or nuk in established parlance, from established beehives. At $ 200 per core, this quickly becomes expensive. He could opt for bee packages that cost little more than half the cost of a kernel, but that guarantees he won’t be harvesting honey at all in 2021.

There are also costs for the 12-year-old daughter Izzy McCaffrey of his partner Sean McCaffrey.

“She’s been putting on her little bee suit and working with those beehives since she was four,” Parnelle said. “She’s done a lot of work, especially things like mite counts for school projects. It’s been going on for months and now all this work, the data she’s been collecting is ruined after a single night. It’s heartbreaking.”

Fortunately, Parnelle said a Concord master beekeeper, Bryan Fisher, has already offered four to five nuk to help restart his hives, but he also had a message for the vandals who raided the property.

“I think we were all young and did things we didn’t want,” said Parnelle. “But remember that someone has put a lot of work into this, even if it’s just a hobby.”

Reach Adam Orr at 704-869-1828 or aorr@gastongazette.com