By Bruce Stambaugh
Beekeeping is on the rise, according to Dr. Jim Tew, recently retired bee specialist at The Ohio State University Extension Services in Wooster, Ohio. He just doesn’t know why.
A meeting held recently at the residence of Mark Miller near Mt. Hope, Ohio seemed to be proof of that. Men, women and children, many of them Amish, nearly filled the several rows of church benches set up in Miller’s spacious outbuilding where the beekeeping meeting was held.
Miller said beekeepers’ meetings like this one are held three times per year. He said there are two such groups in Holmes County, Ohio. They are geographically split into northern and southern groups, with U.S. 62 being the dividing line.
The meetings are held to keep area beekeepers informed about the latest information on beehive maintenance and keeping the bees healthy. They also lean on the informal approach to allow for extensive question and answer times.
Tew was asked to share his expertise on beekeeping. The gregarious and modest Tew kept the group relaxed with personal stories of his more than 40 years of beekeeping. He retired from the OSU Extension after 35 years.
The Alabama native told the group that beekeeping is extremely popular right now.
“But I don’t know why,” he said. He suggested one explanation could be that honeybee husbandry fits into the popular universal interest in providing a dependable, wholesome food supply.
Related to that sustainability idea, Miller told the group, “I like the concept of producing our own bees here in Ohio.” Normally, purchasing commercial kits and commercially raised queen bees, which are essential for hives to thrive, starts bee colonies.
“Having meetings like this,” Miller said, “will help us toward that goal.”
Indeed, Tew indicated that when the Varroa destructor mites began to invade honey beehives in 1987, the industry took a huge hit. The killer bee scare followed that, and bee husbandry began to wane.
“It’s unnerving,” Tew said of the disease, officially called colony collapse syndrome. “Happily those initial dark days have gone away, and I no longer have any fear of all of my hives dying.”
He shared various ways beekeepers could help deter the mites and how to properly inspect hives for any possible problems. He said the most recent die off of bees made headlines because information spread rapidly on the Internet.
“This die off was not new,” Tew said, “though it may have a different cause.” He explained that there could be many causes for hives not thriving.
“Too many of us want to find one reason for a die off,” he said. “Each of you who keeps bees will have to talk amongst yourselves to determine what system to stop the mites works best.”
Miller said the meeting was not limited to those who live north of U.S. 62. In fact, 17-year-old Brian Miller came from Apple Creek to learn about bees. He just began keeping bees last year, and said his hives are thriving.
The Tri-County Beekeepers Association in Wooster awarded Brian Miller a $500 scholarship for an essay he wrote on “Why I love beekeeping.” He said the money enabled him to purchase needed beekeeping supplies and equipment to maintain and expand his hives.
Mark Miller, who began beekeeping in 2009, said he also received an award to help him get started.
“I was honored to receive the Don Meyers East Ohio Apiculture Project prize of $75,” he said. That amount helped him buy two hives and equipment to operate them.
Though he retired from his OSU Extension position, Tew continues in the bee business both personally and professionally. Besides keeping bees himself, he also serves as a state beekeeping specialist for his home state of Alabama.
He kidded the crowd by saying that he now has a 900-mile commute to work. In actuality, he travels to Alabama five times a year to complete his beekeeping responsibilities.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2012