- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2016

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (AP) - Some days start out just a little more interesting than others. On this particular Friday morning there was a small group of people congregated in the rear of the Purdue Polytechnic Institute in New Albany, wearing protective suits and playing with an estimated 15,000 honey bees.

Not your typical day. But there is nothing out of the ordinary about bees and learning how to become a beekeeper. It’s a hobby that continues to grow in interest and popularity.

“A lot of people in this group got hooked,” said Gina Anderson, Floyd County Extension educator and leader of the Bee Team. She started a two-year class, Beekeeping A to Z this year which is filled up. She also coordinates other bee programs for those interested in starting their own hives.

Anderson has been aided by members of the Spring Valley Beekeepers, which she said have helped educate her and members of the group about bees and the bee hive business.

There is a lot involved with learning about bees and how to operate your own hive. But it is educational, fascinating and delicious if you enjoy the sweet taste of honey made by the bees.

While 15,000 bees sound like a lot, at their peak this summer the hives will grow to 60,000 according to master beekeeper Ted Cummings, who was on hand this day to help check the panels of cones inside the hives. While most wore protective suits, Cummings did not. He went about his business as if the bees were non-existent. He has been a member of the Spring Valley Beekeepers Association for 12 years. He teaches a class once a month at Purdue Polytechnic for first-time beekeepers.

Each panel has cones which will eventually become full of honey. Cummings said summer is the prime season for bees to draw out nectar which is collected by and turned into honey.

As Cummings and the others studied and rotated the panels, they would gently squirt sugar water on a section to occupy the bees. He also told the group to gently blow on the bees to move them to another side of the panel.

Cummings said during the summer bees only live five or six weeks. He said they wear themselves out working in the hive. During May and June the bees bring in everything they need for the hive. During the fall, the hive will be reduced to around 12,000 bees. Many bees also die from parasites and mites.

Anderson, who also teaches the popular master gardener class at Purdue every other year, said she had an interest in bees, and how they are needed for pollination to help produce the food supply we all enjoy.

“We don’t have fruit without pollination,” she said.

The honey bee decline is real, which is another reason why Anderson is trying to educate the public on the importance of bees.

“I try to educate people on when to spray pesticides and how bees are declining due to a lack of habitat,” she said.

Cummings said the home gardener is the “chief offender” when it comes to the decline of honey bees. He said as they spray their gardens to kill bugs, they also kill bees.

But he said with education, more people are becoming more aware of how important honey bees are to the environment. As bees collect nectar, they pollinate crops. It is estimated bees contribute $17 billion to the U.S. agriculture each year, Cummings said.

“People are aware this is a problem,” he said. “There are so many chemicals in the environment that were not there 40 or 50 years ago.”

A bee hive cost around $250 to set up, Cummings said, but for first-timers it can be a little more expensive since tools, a protective suit and other items are needed. A Community Foundation grant helped sponsor Pollinator Day at Purdue this year along with the expense of the bee hives.

“Without their help this would not have been possible,” Anderson said.

Cummings said when people start their own hives, he encourages them to keep it out of sight where it won’t attract people.

A bee hive can produce around 60 pounds of honey each year.

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Source: News and Tribune, https://bit.ly/28Nzx0Y

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Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., https://www.newsandtribune.com

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