BATH TOWNSHIP – It was the perfect storm that created the gloomy outlook honeybees face, according to Terry Leiberman, Greene County beekeeper and vice president of the Ohio State Beekeepers Association — a combination of factors resulting in a shrinking bee gene pool, fewer beekeepers engaging in the skill and more chemicals readily in the environment have made it harder for the fuzzed pollinators to thrive.
And when the honeybees don’t do well, humans face the possibility of not doing so well, either.
“Bats pollinate, moths pollinate, some wasps pollinate, but for the serious food supply, honeybees are it,” Leiberman said. “… If something were to happen to those pollinators, then every crop … apples, pumpkins, squash, blueberries, strawberries – would not be as productive because they wouldn’t have the pollinators there. The quality of our food would go down, the expense of our food would go up and it could be very detrimental to both our health and the economy.”
But there is hope, as even those who avoid the risk of being stung at all costs can engage in behaviors to help the bees. Leiberman suggests planting a variety of colorful, scented flowers and herbs in a seasonal manner to give the bees a “full pantry” year-round. She also suggests limiting the use of pesticides, but following the label closely when using the chemical is needed.
“It’s our bees who will go to the neighbors yard and pollinate their tomatoes, apple trees, their pumpkins, to make their yards more productive,” she said. “The same thing with flowers, even something like alfalfa, which feeds things like cows. If the alfalfa blooms aren’t pollinated, you won’t get more seed to plant more alfalfa.”
Leiberman started beekeeping 10 years ago when she exchanged city lights and sirens to an area where a variety of colorful birds chirp freely and the flowers surround the home. She said it was an agricultural-friendly property, so she wanted to engage in an agriculture-related activity, but not as time-consuming as raising horses or chickens.
While Leiberman doesn’t like getting stung, she understands that it is a part of beekeeping. She is sure to take precautions to avoid getting the sting, such as wearing gloves, tucking her pants into her shoes and putting on a beekeeper veil. When she suits up to check on her hives, she said the rest of the world fades away and she finds herself in a flow state of mind – just like a crossword puzzle-solver or a model maker would when they engage in their trades. She said she will tell her husband “I’m just going to go check on the bees, I’ll be back in 30 minutes.” But three hours later, he will find her knee-deep in beekeeping.
Those who “get stung by the beekeeping bug” just can’t get enough, according to Leiberman, who added that a beekeeper should aim to work with the bees schedule instead of their own because instincts will work their course. Beekeepers will sometimes engage in experimentation, such as varying the type of equipment they contain the bees within, among other means.
“There’s so many ways that you can interact with them and see how things go,” Leiberman said.
For those who want to take saving the bees a step further, Leiberman suggests attending a local beekeepers association meeting. The Greene County Beekeepers Association meets in the City of Xenia the third Tuesday of each month, while the Miami Valley Beekeepers Association meets in the City of Troy.
Leiberman said doing so is beneficial for a prospective beekeeper as it allows them to be proactive in learning what it takes to manage a successful hive instead of figuring it out the hard way. She said the clubs will include those who have been beekeeping for a number of years who can tell stories, which can teach the new beekeepers tricks of the trade.
During the fall or winter months, she predicts these associations will offer beginning beekeeping classes so they may be prepared to take on a hive when the spring months come back around.
“Beekeeping is so different from everything we have elsewhere, where we have to keep everything according to a schedule and have to keep that schedule,” she said. “You come out [to your hives] and it’s like you have to take a backseat to them and it is really cool and different. It’s awe-inspiring.”