Honeybees are remarkable creatures - industrious pollinators necessary for producing most of our food crops like all of those apples, cucumbers, raspberries and pumpkins grown on Miami Valley farms and, of course, the honey for which they’re named. With wild populations dwindling most honeybees are now kept as willing workers by human beekeepers. Community Voices producer Jim Kahle talks with Greg and Melody Blatt of Bellbrook about their path to a new hobby.
After a quick greeting maintaining our social distance, Greg produced two beekeeper suits and instructed me in the proper way to check the white plastic jackets for a snug fit around the openings, zipping up the large netted helmet, covering the zippers with velcro flaps then checking the gloves and jacket.
Properly protected, we made our way across his well manicured lawn in Bellbrook to a wooden box sitting on one end of a plank supported by two cinderblocks. I put the microphone in close while Greg took the top off the hive and admitted that this was the closest I had ever been to a bee hive.
"It all kind of started out as a funny joke," says Greg describing the origins of his beekeeping. "My wife and I were at a dinner party with some friends and my wife made a comment..."
"You know I said I’ve always liked a man in uniform," Melody chimes in. "I told Greg he should be a beekeeper."
After an initial chuckle from their friends that night, Greg says, "I am sitting in church one morning, sitting behind me was couple and I introduced myself and asked him what he does. And he says 'Well I’m retired,' and I said, 'Oh so what do you do to keep yourself busy in retirement?' He says 'I’m a beekeeper.' So I told him the whole story about the dinner party and my friends and so forth and he started to laugh and says, 'Well you would probably like to come to one of my beekeeping classes that I teach for the city of Kettering.' I texted my wife and said, 'Honey you are going to believe this.' I said I just got a sign from God."
After classes, bee boxes, suits with net helmets, gloves, and live bees by mail-order, Greg joined the over 6600 beekeepers in Ohio as a rookie beekeeper with two hives going into winter.
"I had no idea how orderly everything was inside of a bee hive," he says. "There is just so much order to it, you know. Frankly I can’t imagine this all happened because two rocks collided, and it just appeared. I mean there has to be something bigger that put this whole symmetry together."
I asked Greg when a beekeper knows if they've had a successful overwintering.
"So if you get into temperatures in the high 50s to low 60s, you can go out and kind of check on the hives. So I actually did that about a week or so ago, and as it turns out, one of my hives died out the other hive is doing fantastic."
Greg says that a beekeper gets around 30 pounds of honey every harvest, and a pound of honey is worth $10 to $12.
"When your first pound of honey generally comes out, you’ve got about 1500 hours in it. So it's not about the money, right? But you are doing a lot for the environment and a lot for the human population. The bees are the biggest pollinators we have. If we don’t have honey bees to go out and pollinate, then we won't have food crops, if we don’t have food crops then we aren’t going to survive very long."
Greg says that when he started, he had no idea that his bees would be out pollinating crops and flowers, and gathering pollen from Xenia and Kettering before coming home to Bellbrook to make honey in he and Melody's hive.
Before I left, I had to ask, "What's [Meoldy's] reacti0n to you in uniform?"
"Oh well you know surprisingly, she just wants the honey."