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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Fort Thomas Mother and Son Beekeepers Saving the Planet

The tiniest things reveal the biggest truths.

Why would anyone get into beekeeping if he is allergic to bee stings? Ask Jeff Steller and you get this as an answer.  Ha! For me personally, honey bees are bad, bad news.  I’m very allergic, just short of anaphylactic really.  Last summer I got stung in the face and for two days my eyes were swollen shut, even after taking steroids and antihistamines.  Another time I was stung, my entire body turned bright red from the reaction.  Some may have walked away after that, but not Jeff. He took it all in stride. In fact, he has the best attitude.

So why? I originally got interested in beekeeping because I was feeling really restless and disconnected from the Earth.  I started to think about what it would look like to have my own farm and that led to thinking more about using our family’s property to start a little enterprise.  My mom mentioned that my grandpa had kept bees and I thought it sounded like something I should add to the farm idea.  It also happened to be the one part of the farm that I could start without a huge time commitment and without a big upfront investment. 

Jeff and his mother, Jill, who are relative newcomers to the activity, (There are a handful of beekeepers in Fort Thomas) have hives on family property out in the county. Jill recalls that My father raised bees in the 70’s and I have memories of him caring for them.  I was always fascinated but not brave enough to suit up and help.  When my son, Jeff, expressed an interest, I thought it would be a fun and interesting hobby to take on together. … I have two hives right now and am waiting on a queen for my third hive.  Three is probably my limit.

So they attended beekeeping courses and talk with other beekeepers. Jeff attended the Beginner Bee School presented by the Northern Kentucky Beekeepers and he attends the Southwestern Ohio Beekeepers Association bee school each spring.

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Beekeeping is a fairly low expense activity and doesn’t require a significant amount of time. Jeff says that it is A lot less than most people think.  In the spring, it’s just a few hours to check on the bees and then we leave them alone for most of the summer with the occasional check here and there.  All told, I probably spend more time just watching the bees bring pollen back than I do any maintenance or care.  Jill concurs and adds that You can watch the bees bring in different color pollen depending on what is blooming at the time.  My bees mainly have clover available and I personally like clover honey the best. She adds that More time is required especially when taking off the honey in summer or fall and preparing the hives for winter.  I think the only requirements for raising bees is a love of trying something new.
Jill's hives. 

Melanie E. Derrick, Secretary of Northern Kentucky Beekeeper Association, recommends that
Individuals looking to install hive(s) on their property confirm ordinances with the city/location of property. One doesn't have to have a lot of space/land to keep bees, as once they leave the hive, they leave the area and will forage in about a 3 mile radius from ‘home.’” In fact, there are a handful of beekeepers in Fort Thomas.

There is the danger of colony collapse, but the Stellers have not experienced much of that. Jill says that The biggest issue has been with yellow jackets, but if the hives are strong, the guard bees keep the yellow jackets from entering the hive.  We do put hive guards on the entrance so mice and small critters can’t enter the hive especially in the winter.

But what about those painful stings? Jill does not share Jeff’s allergy to bee stings, but they are a part of the experience. I have been stung when we were drawing honey from the hive.  It would be like someone robbing your home and you protecting your valuables.  Even with my beekeeping suit they were able to sting me through the suit.  I wear more layers now.  Smoke signals danger for the bees so they go down into the hive and make it easier to perform the activities in the hive.  You just have to be careful. But really, many hobbies and activities have a risk of injury. Where’s the excitement if there is no risk?

And there is bad news regarding bees. It is estimated that the industry lost 44% of their colonies from the spring of 2015 to the spring of 2016. Can you imagine the national urgency that the loss of 44% of any industry would have on the nation? It would be a crisis especially considering how vital their are to our food sources.  Bees are affected by all of the same things that affect all species - loss of habitat, pollution, insecticides, and climate change - and beekeepers are doing their part to keep bees healthy and productive, but if bees disappeared then it would only be a matter of years before our food disappears. Those little buzzing pollinators are that important.

So what’s in the future? In addition to adding a hive or two Jeff has an idea to get others involved. My plan over the course of the summer is to lay the groundwork to launch an adopt-a-hive program where I work with people who might be interested in getting honey or contributing to the “save the bees” movement but don’t want to keep bees.  Ideally, I’d love to have hives all over Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati.  Simply put - the more bees, the better.

Jill reflects on what she has learned. I think in a small way I am helping to save our environment.  I think most people feel that the problems of the world are so large that is difficult to affect change and this is my small part. Jeff agrees. I’d say I’ve learned how special a connection can be between humans and the natural world when you really take the time to care for and understand the ones we share the Earth with.

Someone said that the Earth sings with the songs of all of its inhabitants every day, but it doesn’t seem like many people are listening. If we listened then we will learn that we need bees not only for their honey, but more importantly because they pollinate food sources for humans.  We may not be able to do a lot of big things to change the world but we sure can do a lot of little things to change the world. Perhaps beekeepers are the quiet superheroes of the planet.

Jill and Jeff tend to their hives.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful!!! How can I get started???