WILLIAMSTOWN - Kent Linscott goes to work prepared.
In the beekeeping business, that means wearing a zipped jacket, a veil that covers his face and head, rubber surgical gloves and long pants-and he's still had his fair share of stings.
He recalled when he has been stung through his glove and when a bee crawled into his veil.
Photo by Ashley Rittenhouse
Beekeeper Kent Linscott pulls a frame from a box in the backyard of his Williamstown home. There are more bees now than there normally are this time of year due to warmer-than-normal temperatures.
"My tolerance has built up to where I don't notice it after it happens, but it still hurts when it happens," he said.
He added beekeeping can also be risky in that if a person starts out doing it and changes their mind, they'll lose the roughly $300 it takes to get started.
The 65 members of the Mid-Ohio Valley Beekeepers' Association aren't bothered by the risks that go along with the activity.
Linscott said the group has grown since he first joined about five years ago, partly because more people are becoming aware of how much of the food supply is pollinated by bees. Bees pollinate about a third of U.S. crops, according to the Associated Press.
Linscott's parents established a small orchard on their farm in Wirt County five years ago, about the same time honeybee colony collapse disorder was resulting in many beekeepers losing most of their hives.
He figured if they wanted pollinators in the orchard, they better get their own honeybees.
"That was the main thing I was setting into it for, to make sure I had pollinators for the fruit trees when they got blooms," Linscott said "As things progressed, I thought I'd only have a couple hives and now I'm up to 11."
Linscott's hives are in the backyard of his Williamstown home. Before he pulls a frame from a hive, he uses a smoker on the hive to make the bees less aggressive. When he pulls out the frame, covered partly with honey, hundreds of them fly from it while others stay latched to it. Even those that fly appear to stay close by.
Beekeeping is becoming an increasingly popular activity, according to Linscott and other members of the Mid-Ohio Valley Beekeepers' Association.
Having had an unusually mild winter and record-setting heat already this spring, they say the bees are certainly not in short supply, but the amount of honey the beekeepers are able to collect could be less than normal this year.
"These bees now think it's May. I'm sure we'll have an early swarm season," said Boaz beekeeper Teresa Wagoner. "When your bees swarm, you basically lose half of your hive, then that's going to cut down on your honey production because half of your workforce left."
Wagoner added swarm season doesn't normally come until late May or early June, but she's sure it will arrive in April this year.
Linscott said one thing that causes honeybees to swarm is overcrowding in the hive.
"I try to check them every week or every other week this time of year to keep an eye on the number of bees in the hive to make sure they have enough space," he said.
While Linscott still uses the bees for pollination purposes, he also gathers the honey, puts it in jars and sells it at the River City Farmers Market in Marietta. The method he uses for processing the honey is unique in that he doesn't use any heat, instead labeling it as raw honey. Raw honey is different from liquid honey in that it holds beneficial enzymes and nutrients which usually die when honey is heated.
"They say if you eat honey from within 30 to 50 miles of where you live, it builds up your allergy immunity," Linscott said. "They're gathering from plants in your area."
Linscott said being able to get honey is one major benefit of being a beekeeper, but working outside and observing the patterns of the bees are also benefits. "They're interesting creatures and it's interesting to see their life cycle throughout the year and see there's a season for them just like there is everything else," he said.
Along with those benefits, Linscott said he thinks the growth among beekeepers may be due to more publicity in recent years.
"The problems there have been with the decline of bees has caused it to be in the spotlight," he said.
Wagoner said honeybee colony collapse disorder, in which all the adult honey bees in a colony suddenly disappear or die, never became a huge problem locally. Commercial beekeepers and environmental groups this past week asked federal regulators to suspend use of the pesticide clothianidin which is lethal to bees and weaken their immune systems, potentially contributing to colony collapse disorder.
"It was more in the corn belt area," she said. "The biggest problem we see in our area is more and more people are treating their lawns and that hurts the bees."