Newly formed local beekeeping organization hoping to help beginners, others

A Seymour woman trying to grow her fresh produce business recently turned to a small flying insect for extra help.

“I wanted to have bees, and now that I have a bigger yard that wants to do more with produce, bees are just another thing to learn with pollination help,” Megan Ritz said. “They’re amazing little creatures that God has given us, so we might as well use them to our advantage.”

On Sunday, Ritz joined a dozen beekeepers, ranging from novices to the experienced, for a demonstration brought in by some of the founders of the recently formed Jackson County Beekeepers of Indiana.

The event was held on the property of Ritz’s parents, Casey and Melanie Ritz, southwest of Cortland.

Melanie Ritz was also present at the demonstration.

“We kind of have production stuff here and we’re going to have a greenhouse,” she said. “She (Megan) already wanted some bees for the greenhouse, and we want to learn something about them (the honeybees).”

One of the first steps for the Ritzes was to buy a starter hive, also known as a nuc hive, and then transfer the honeybees to a permanent hive.

That was the goal of Sunday’s event, said Steve Rumph of Honeytown Apiary.

Rumph led Sunday’s demonstration together with Greg Waskom with Waskom Bees. They are two of the founding members of the club, along with Brian Hessong of Horselick Creek Apiary and Bryan Hendrix.

The group met earlier this year to see if they could help others who had gotten into beekeeping and got lost along the way, he said.

The ultimate goal of beekeeping is to produce honey and ensure pollination, Rumph said.

During the demonstration, Waskom and Rumph de Ritzes and others showed how bees can be transferred from a starter hive to a permanent hive.

The process is one of the first steps in beekeeping, Rumph said. Starter packs can be purchased from other beekeepers. With the right equipment and knowledge, swarms of bees can also be caught, but that’s another lesson.

Rumph has been involved in beekeeping for the past five years.

“I bought my original bees from Greg (Washbowl),” he said.

The process of beekeeping requires some knowledge, Rumph said.

“But with good mentors, anyone can do this,” he said.

Rumph said he has found that there is more interest in beekeeping than he expected.

“We have a very good turnout today,” he says. “We have a lot of people who just show up. They just see them there and want to get into bees. I’ve been mentoring a few people lately.”

He said that there are a lot of honey bees, and that there are also plenty of people around who do beekeeping.

Waskom said he started having five hives about eight years ago.

At that point, he just wanted to get some honey.

“People started stopping by wanting to know if we had bees for sale,” Waskom said. “Before you know it, the following year we went from five hives to where we sold 84 nucs.”

Waskom said most people who buy know little or nothing about beekeeping.

“We started helping them,” he said. “Our goal is to teach people how to keep their bees alive over the winter so they don’t have to buy new bees the next year.”

That is the biggest problem for people who get into beekeeping.

The secret to keeping bees alive in winter is to give them the space they need in a good, tight box, provide plenty of food, treat them against mites and keep the pests out.

“They pretty much do the rest on their own,” Waskom said.

He said that bees do two things very well.

“They multiply and they make honey,” Waskom said.

He said 38% of everything people eat is directly influenced by honeybees, and more than 70% is indirectly influenced by honeybees.

Waskom’s knowledge of beekeeping sometimes seems endless.

For example, honeybees get the pollen not only from flowers and weeds, but also from many sources, including maples and grasshoppers.

“The tulip poplars are a great honey crop for them,” he said. “On average, bees go about 3 miles around where their hive is. They grab stuff that people want to get rid of, like the dandelion, the asters, the clovers, things that people don’t like because they think of them as weeds.”

Honey bees also do not compete with other pollinators such as the bumblebee, butterfly and others as each is suitable for flowers, weeds and other plants.

“You have to have them all and they co-exist because they do different things,” Waskom said.

He also said that while bees, like humans, are temperamental and can be aggressive and calm at times, it often depends on the weather, time of year, time of day and other factors.

On Sunday the bees behaved well and no one was stung.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Internal Reserve Service also classify honeybees as livestock, Waskom said.

Nathan Stout from Seymour said he got into beekeeping because it was something he wanted to try, but he’s still relatively new to it.

“Last year I came into contact with bees,” he said. “So this is my second year and I’m still trying to learn, and still trying to keep them alive.”

Stout, who currently has three small hives, found the club on Facebook.

He said he hasn’t been able to get honey yet.

“Keeping the bees alive is the first goal,” he said.

Hendrix, who was unable to attend the demonstration, said he was the only one of the club’s four founding members not to make a business of beekeeping for honey.

“I’ve played with bees occasionally (six times) for 30 years, but always lost them in the winter,” he said. “That’s why I started the club so that I can learn. Surround yourself with like-minded people and good things can come out of it.”

While he doesn’t have a name for his surgery, things are starting to change when it comes to beekeeping, he said.

“My bee colonies are growing this year,” he said. “I now have nine with three captured swarms. Good times.”

Hendrix said Hessong has started grafting queens.

“So we hope to have some local queens in Jackson County,” he said. “He is also a member of the Indiana Queen Breeders Roundtable.”

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