Local beekeeping increases thanks to hobbyists

Beavercreek just approved allowing hobby hives in town

Beavercreek approved an ordinance this week that will allow beekeeping within its borders. The action comes at a time when bee health is improving and interest in beekeeping is picking up. We talked with some local beekeepers about how and why they got started.

Yellow Springs mayor Dave Foubert started beekeeping last year. Believe it or not, he says it’s loads of fun.

“I’d say I got bitten by the bug, but I guess I should say I got stung,” he said.

He joins a variety of people – young and retired, male and female, rural and semi-urban – who have rekindled local interest in beekeeping.

Within the last decade, farmers and scientists feared honeybees were in serious trouble. Scientists believe a combination of mites, viruses and pesticides left bees sick or dead all over the country.

Here in Ohio, things were as bad as in the rest of the nation. In the 1980s, Ohio had about 30,000 beekeeping enterprises, called apiaries. By 2010, the state was down to 3,800, said Barbara Bloetscher, state apiarist for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

But things are slowly picking up, she said, noting Ohio this year has 4,289 apiaries due to increasing interest in beekeeping, a mild winter that allowed most bees to survive, and newer and better treatments for mites. Most municipalities in Ohio permit beekeeping, but some are reconsidering in public meetings as Beavercreek did.

One of the area’s newer beekeepers is Dr. George Brown, a former Miami Valley Hospital heart surgeon who retired and wanted a hobby. He’d always been fascinated with bees, and he ticks off the reasons beekeeping is great for him. He can go on vacation and leave his bees alone.The startup cost isn’t bad ($200 to $300, he estimates, for a hive or two and a “pack” of bees that arrives in the mail), and he can give away 150 to 200 jars of honey annually.

Brown took a Greene County Beekeepers Association class before starting. He lives in Kettering but keeps his 12 hives on friends’ farms in Trotwood.

Even in winter, there’s little for Brown to worry about. Bees form a tightly packed ball with the queen in the center and then beat their wings mightily to maintain a winter hive temperature of 98 degrees. And they hoard enough honey that there’s plenty left for them to eat all winter even after Brown gets his cut.

It’s not entirely a hands-off hobby, though. Skunks like to eat bees, Brown said, and ants attack hives for the honey. A mentor taught him to sprinkle cinnamon around the hives to get rid of ants. Similarly, Bloetscher encourages beekeepers to monitor for mites – and powdered sugar is one way to eradicate them.

Unlike Brown, Dan O’Callaghan, who with his brother farms 125 acres in Wilberforce, didn’t really start out beekeeping with mentors or classes. His son tried beekeeping as a 4-H project one year. His son did not want to continue after the project was cmpleted, but O’Callaghan did, partly because he noted how the presence of the bees had contributing to his plants.

Now, 10 years later, O’Callaghan also collects swarms when people report them. Brown says bees are docile when swarming, noting “you don’t even need a veil or gloves or anything.” But O’Callaghan has also faced trickier recoveries, including cutting out a section of wall to remove bees from a house scheduled for demolition.

Another longer-term local beekeeper is Terry Lieberman-Smith, who has had hives for eight years at her home in Bath Township. Living in a rural part of Greene County, she wanted to do something agricultural. But like Brown, she wanted to be able to go on vacation and not “worry about who would feed the chickens” or that sort of thing.

Bees fit the bill, but she didn’t have a mentor.

“I didn’t do this the way most people recommend,” she said. “I didn’t take a class; I didn’t know anyone who did it. The ‘(Beekeeping for) Dummies’ book was my friend.”

After learning the hard way, she became a mentor to others. She teaches beekeeping classes for Greene County Beekeepers Association and has spoken to local governments, including Riverside and Dayton, as they debated beekeeping ordinances.

She’s never heard complaints from neighbors, but “we have enough acreage that you don’t feel like there’s a bee bombardment when you go out there” despite the fact that she has 15 hives. In fact, one neighbor even waxed poetic about how great her garden looked this year, and Lieberman-Smith chuckled to herself and mentally claimed some of the credit.

And she’s encouraged by signs that beekeeping is on the upswing locally. The Ohio State Fair and the Greene and Miami county fairs have reinstated honey judging, she said, and Greene County Beekeepers Association membership has almost doubled in the past five to six years, from about 40 to 75.

“The number of beekeepers in the area has grown dramatically,” she said.

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