Wade Fletcher, a Cherokee Nation citizen and beekeeper, inspects a hive frame on June 5 at his property in Uniontown, Arkansas. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen Wade Fletcher tends to honey bees on his property in Uniontown, Arkansas. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen Wade Fletcher and his family are seen at their home in Uniontown, Arkansas. Fletcher has raised bees for almost a decade. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Beekeeper Wade Fletcher has an estimated 400,000 honey bees on his property in Uniontown, Arkansas. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Beekeeper Wade Fletcher points out a queen bee, which is marked with a blue dot. The Cherokee Nation citizen has 20 hives on his Arkansas property. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
UNIONTOWN, Ark. – With practiced ease, Wade Fletcher removes a frame from his beehive and points to the queen, marked with a blue dot to stand out among a writhing throng of smaller workers and drones.
“Once you begin to learn about bees, they’re fascinating creatures,” he said.
A Cherokee Nation citizen from Arkansas, Fletcher, 31, has been “hooked” on beekeeping for the past nine years, amassing 20 hives that house an estimated 400,000 honey bees.
“My father-in-law had a few hives when my wife and I were dating, and I showed some interest in it,” he said. “So after we were married, he decided to give me my first colony, and I was hooked instantly. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Fletcher and his wife, Lacey, live on her family’s Century Farm in Uniontown with children Lilly, 7, and Sawyer, 5. There, Fletcher spends between five and eight hours each week tending to hives, which are populated with swarms caught in the wild. During the years, he’s honed his honey bee hobby with “lots of reading,” YouTube tutorials and fellow beekeepers.
“What I enjoy the most is the reward it gets from the honey,” he said.
Fletcher grew up in Stilwell, Oklahoma. After high school graduation in 2007, he attended the Indian Capital Technology Center with an emphasis on building/grounds maintenance, masonry and auto mechanics. Now, “ironically enough,” he said, “my profession is commercial pest control.”
“I kill bugs in the daytime and take care of them at night,” he said.
One unavoidable aspect of beekeeping is getting stung, sometimes multiple times depending on the hive’s temperament, Fletcher said.
“I’ve been stung quite a few times,” he said. “The most at once was probably 15 times. I had a really aggressive hive. I just need a little Benadryl and go to bed and deal with it that way. Some people can take one sting and it would be life-threatening. Other people can handle multiple stings. I’ve never been in a situation where I felt in danger. But that could be completely different for you or the next guy.”
Fletcher recommends removing the stinger if left by the bee. “It’s going to continue to put venom in you until it runs dry. So you’re going to want to get it out as quick as you can.” In general, Fletcher tries his best to keep “docile bees.”
“I’ve got a couple right now that would eat you up,” he said. “As soon as I get the opportunity to re-queen them, that’ll change the genetics of the hive and the temperament. I try to promote good genetics in my queen rearing.”
So far, Fletcher’s bee endeavor remains a hobby, but he does make a bit of cash selling honey to friends and neighbors. A good colony, he said, can produce 10 gallons a year in this region. “I intend to go commercial in a few years. I’m currently running 20 hives, and I’m just going to keep growing.”
He’s also made it a mission to turn his bee passion into “a family affair.”
“My wife, she’s basically my director of media,” Fletcher said. “She runs our Facebook page. She’s real successful with it. She helps with the honey harvest – the extracting and jarring, all that. The kids, they’re wanting to get into it, so they’re probably going to be more involved this coming fall in helping work the bees.”
Chad Hunter has spent more than two decades in the newspaper industry as a reporter and editor in Arkansas, Oklahoma and his home state of Missouri. He began working for the Cherokee Phoenix in late ...