Summit County Beekeepers Association will conduct its beginner course in January, February at the Summit County Fairgrounds
— Have you thought about becoming a beekeeper? It is a journey that I underwent about 10 years ago. At that time, most people thought you’d be crazy to want to keep bees, but for me it was an easy way to get into agriculture.
Originally, I wanted to grow apples and had read somewhere that you needed bees to pollinate the orchard. While the orchard never came to fruition, the number of colonies in my care has greatly expanded from the two that I started with. In fact, each year brings an expansion.
This winter looks to be an easy one for the bees, but experience has taught me not to count on anything! In 2006, something was happening to honey bees. Beekeepers would go out to previously thriving hives only to find that a mere handful of bees remained. Hives were dying by the thousands and no one knew why.
Bee businesses that had been in existence for generations were dissolving. It was discovered that a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) had taken over many hives. Worker bees had mysteriously abandoned their queen, leaving behind plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees.
It took a great deal of lobbying, a lot of headlines and numerous documentaries to address CCD, which was both the worst and the best thing that could have happened to the beekeeping industry. The awareness that it brought resulted in an evolution in public interest, recruiting thousands to the art of beekeeping.
These new beekeepers see the craft as a way to aid the environment in a fun and exciting new way.
In fact, the honey bee herself has also developed a cult-like following. Everyone seems to want to save the bee because we recognize her importance to our food supply. All one has to do is note the successful crowd-funding campaign supporting the Flow Hive. This contraption promises beekeepers the ability to extract honey from the hive without opening it. Just place a hive in your backyard and voila! Open a spigot and pour honey into a jar!
Most experienced beekeepers look at this contraption with serious skepticism. A beehive needs attention, and moving plastic parts typically don’t work well with honey and beeswax in a hive.
Not to mention one of the primary challenges of beekeeping today is the influx of new beekeepers not having the knowledge to care for them as livestock. Honey bees are living creatures. They require care and attention, like any creature humans take resources from, and it requires one to open the hive.
We all see what uncaring corporate farming has done to the other food we eat. However, it’s difficult to ignore that the flow hive only requested $70,000, but ended up with over $12 million! It seems these days all one has to say is, “I’m doing something with the honey bee!” and they find themselves more than funded.
Beekeeping landscape has changed
If you talk to someone who kept bees in the 1970s they will tell you back then you could put a hive or two in the backyard and just collect the honey.
Times have changed. International commerce has brought many foreign diseases and pests to the honey bee in America. The most devastating of those is the varroa mite, and if you keep bees, you will also have to deal with this pest.
Belonging to the tick family, these mites travel from bee to bee both inside and outside the hive. They are often equated to that of a hypodermic needle shared among a crowd of people. They weaken the immune system of the bees, which makes them more susceptible to the other challenges they have in this modern environment.
Bees pick up viruses and diseases and do not respond as well to the lack of food sources and abundance of pesticides and herbicides. If you keep bees in the United States you will have this mite and must monitor and manage it appropriately.
This risk is not just to your hives, but to neighboring apiaries. Bees travel in about a 2-mile radius. The male bees, called drones, visit other hives. There is interaction and there is a transfer of mites and disease. Those who don’t manage for this pest risk the health of neighboring beekeepers and the feral bee population. Therefore, some who set off to help the plight of bees because of the publicity of the last decade, wind up doing more harm than good by spreading disease and parasites.
Be serious about the craft
If you are considering beekeeping we need you, but don’t go into this craft lightly. We need those who want to be the best caretakers of their bees possible, and there are resources available to help you on your journey.
Any number of things could happen in a beehive that are not only detrimental to your hive, but to neighboring apiaries and wild bee populations. Learning what to do and when can be the difference between success and failure.
I recommend starting with a class. Any class can help, but try to pick one that will get you into a hive.
If your course doesn’t offer this direct access, try to find someone who will take you out into their apiary so you can see things firsthand. Learn from them and decide if beekeeping is for you. It’ll be cheaper for you and easier on the bees.
A class can help to sift through all the information and misinformation out there published on the Internet and repeated until it is gospel in social media. If there is one thing I have learned in my decade long journey, it’s that there is a lot of BAD information on social media and on the Internet.
If this seems daunting and you don’t think keeping bees is for you, we still need you. The best way you can help is to promote pollinator plantings. This includes at your home, where you work and the city you live in.
Our environment doesn’t always provide enough forage, things for bees to eat. Anecdotally, it is said it takes 2 million flowers to make a pound of honey.
Bees eat honey for their carbohydrates, the thing that gives them energy to survive the winter. Depending on the winter, they can consume 40 to 80 pounds. That’s a lot of flowers!
For whatever reason, the average American strives for that lush green lawn. It’s a sign of wealth, success and proper hygiene. We even prosecute those who do not conform. Add to that the thousands of acres of corn and soybean in Ohio, the miles of concrete and asphalt — all of which is a desert to a bee, for all pollinators and wildlife actually.
It is easy for residents to choose pollinator-friendly plants and alternatives to that green lawn. It would also be so easy for city planners to choose pollinator-friendly trees such as the locust or the basswood, because “yes” there are bee=hives in the city. There are beehives in THIS city. Some are registered with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which is the law and only requires a $5 fee. Some are not for various reasons, but make no mistake: there are beekeepers all around. If they have been educated and are good stewards you may not even notice them. They could be your neighbor.
The Summit County Beekeepers Association will conduct its beginner beekeeping course Jan. 13, 20, 27, and Feb. 3 and 10, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Summit County Fairgrounds. This is where aspiring beekeepers may decide if this is something they want to pursue and if they do eventually become the best stewards of their bees possible.
This class will not just be classroom instruction, but will include hands-on training at the various Urban Honey Bee apiaries throughout the Akron area. The importance of the hands-on portion of the class cannot be overstated. That is where the rubber meets the road. Cost is $80 or $100 per family and includes a textbook as well as a year’s membership to Summit County Beekeepers Association.
If you become a beekeeper and lose your bees, it is going to cost you almost twice that to replace them, not to mention the harm done to the surrounding bee population.
For more information on the class or how to help the bees, contact me by phone at (330) 608-3778 or via email at [email protected]. For more information on Summit County Beekeepers, visit www.summitbeekeepers.com.
Editor’s Note: Laura Urban owns and operates Urban Honey Bee, which sells bees, beekeeping equipment and honey in Akron and the surrounding areas.
She is also the Vice President of Summit County Beekeepers Association and was the county apiary inspector for two years. You can find her on the Urban Honey Bee Facebook page or at beesfromohio.com (except in the summer, when you can only find her out with her bees).