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Why Hamilton’s proposed law is a big deal in this insect world

If it weren’t for human-owned hives, there would be no honey bees in Butler County, the bee inspector for both Butler and Preble county said.

That’s one reason Don Popp, of Don Popp’s Honey Farm in Milford Twp. (about two miles north of Darrtown) was pleased to hear Hamilton is considering legislation to make it legal to own hives in the city.

“There currently are some bees (in domesticated hives) in Hamilton right now,” he said. “There’s a few in there. You won’t hardly hear any complaints from people about having bees in there, because people know how important honey bees are anymore.”

Here’s how devastated area bees have been by such factors as Varroa mites and the bacterial and viral issues that accompany them: “If there weren’t any domestic bees, there wouldn’t be any bees, because of a little thing about the size of a flea called a Varroa mite,” Popp said.

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Hamilton’s Ordinance Review Commission is developing legislation allowing people to have hives in city limits.

Alex Zomchek, an apiculturist (person who studies bees) and adjunct professor of apiculture at Miami University, also is glad to hear about Hamilton’s leaning toward human-tended hives in the urban area: “There’s a lot of interest out there,” he said.

Many people don’t realize this, but Miami University played a significant part in the origins of beekeeping. L. L. Langstroth, who lived in Oxford, created the movable-frame beehive in the mid-1800s, and he did such a good job of creating the hive, there has been little modification made to his device in more than a century since.

Those tiny bees have been observed to fly as far as 11 miles to pollinate in desperate situations, Zomchek said.

Many cities across the country adopted legislation banning bee hives decades ago when there was concern about tropical bees from South America moving northward into the country. But as it turned out, this climate is too cold for them and they have not come close to this area, he said.

Zomchek, who said Miami’s Hamilton campus is interested in installing hives for its students’ education, added: “There have to be responsible limits, where neighbors can say, ‘Well, wait a minute, wait a minute…’”

While honey bees are generally non-aggressive — he keeps some on his deck to show to guests — they are stinging insects, after all, he said.

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“I think right up next to shark bites and electroshock therapy, people’s fear of bee stings ranks as just one of those fears that we carry in our back pocket,” he said.

Interest is growing, though, Popp said: “I’ll probably get 25-30 new people a year started in keeping bees.” He now sells hives to 25 to 30 new beekeepers in a typical year.

“We are dependent on the honey bees, but unfortunately, because of what we have done to them, which is farmed them, genetically manipulate them, controlled them, and then expose them to our parasitic Varroa mites and the associated diseases and pests that come with them, we have now so weakened them, that left to their own devices, I think even the definition of domestication has changed,” Zomchek said.

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It’s so bad that in Ohio that 60 percent of bees that go into the winter die coming into the spring, he added.

As a 10-year-old decades ago in northern Wisconsin, where the winters are brutal for bees, his bees’ mortality rate was 3 percent, he said.

“Pardon the pun, but there is no Plan B for the honey bees,” Zomchek said.

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