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Q&A: Beekeeper offers tips on beneficial insects

Long-time beekeeper Kenny Bach has some advice for those who encounter honeybees this spring and summer.

“Don’t panic, don’t swat them, just stay calm,” he said. “They’re a beneficial insect that has enough natural problems. We don’t want people to be one of those problems.”

Bach, of Devola, is the president of the Mid-Ohio Valley Beekeepers Association, which has about 75 members in Washington, Morgan and Athens counties in Ohio and in Wood and Pleasants counties in West Virginia. Members of the association will come pick up bees on a property where they’re unwanted in order to keep them safe.

Those who need assistance can call Bach at 740-374-4040 or email him at bachkb@yahoo.com. West Virginia residents can call Teresa Wagoner at 304-482-6401.

“We have to try to provide for them and keep them healthy,” Bach said.

Question: How long have you been a part of the Mid-Ohio Valley Beekeepers Association and how long have you been a beekeeper?

Answer: I joined in 2010 so eight or nine years now. I started keeping bees in the ’70s into the ’80s.

Q: What made you interested in doing that?

A: My grandfather and my dad had bees. We lived on a farm and post World War II it was a source of sugar. And they’re just interesting.

Q: What’s something you think people don’t know about bees or that has surprised you?

A: It’s changed a lot from when I first got into it. There are these Varroa mites that are a parasite on bees that weaken the immune system of the bees. There are just a lot more challenges. There is less habitat for the bees. We have a lot more Walmart parking lots and less natural habitat. It’s just ever-changing with bees. You get a hand-hold on one thing and something else pops up. The problems and the challenges are what I didn’t expect.

Q: How is our bee population locally?

A: It’s pretty much holding steady. It goes up and down. We get a lot of new beekeepers with not enough education or background in this who lose their bees and get discouraged.

Q: How many do you have now?

A: I have 45 hives.

Q: How much work is that?

A: Well, right now we’re coming into the swarming season, when the hives will raise a new queen and the old queen and about half the colony will leave. They’ll form a cluster and have a scout bees out looking for new locations. Hopefully, we can catch them before they move on or prevent them from swarming.

We ask that if people do see a swarm of bees hanging on a branch or tree–they’ll cluster on anything, a bicycle, a mailbox-to call us at the club or call the sheriff’s office or the fire department or an agriculture department. Rather than panicking and spraying them with pesticides or water, we would appreciate the call. They’re the most docile when they’re in a swarm. They have nothing to protect. They’re just hanging out, looking for a new place.

Q: And if contacted, you’ll come and take them?

A: Yes, we’ll put them in a hive and rescue them. That’s what they’re looking for in the first place.

Q: What are some misconceptions you think people have about bees? So many people are scared of them.

A: If you try to do something to them, you could get stung but they’re not in attack mode.

Q: Why are honeybees so important to keep around?

A: They pollinate about one-third of everything we eat-nuts, fruits, some vegetables and some things we don’t think about, like milk. The dairy farmer feeds his dairy cow alfalfa hay, which has a blossom that has to be pollinated. It takes 1.8 million hives to produce the almonds in California every year. We have to have bees. We try to provide them with a dry, safe shelter and hopefully we’re rewarded with some honey and pollination.

Q: Not everybody wants to become a beekeeper. Are there some smaller ways people can help, things they can plant in their yards?

A: Sure, lots of flowers and some trees are very attractive to bees. Linden trees, poplars, locusts, lots of different blossoming trees. Dandelions, too, although today we have a lot of manicured lawns so we don’t have as many. Really, just try to keep the area around them as natural as possible.

Q: Is there an easy way to identify a honeybee from other stinging insects?

A: The internet is a good source, with photos that can help. They’ve got fine hair on their bodies that wasps and yellowjackets don’t have. They’re brown but they can be a little darker or lighter, almost blonde.

Kate York conducted this interview.

If you go

¯ What: Meeting of the Mid-Ohio Valley Beekeepers Association.

¯ When: 7 p.m. April 23 (and every fourth Tuesday).

¯ Where: Washington County Career Center.

¯ Speakers: Two master gardeners.

¯ For information: movba.org

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