SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio – A growing group of bee enthusiasts are looking beyond the snow to a time when bees awaken, hives come to life and honey flows.
In the meantime, the Summit County Beekeepers Association has donated 100 pounds of honey to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and will deploy its annual beginner beekeeping classes.
Each year, the association offers beekeeping classes with an indoor component in February and a hands-on session in the spring, the group said.
The classes are a way to welcome new members, including those who do not plan to have their own apiary, and to fulfill the association’s mission of promoting beekeeping and educating people about bees.
“It’s an addictive hobby and you develop such a passion for those bees,” said the association’s president, Robert Najjar. “They’re like what you do to relax. It’s so fascinating.”
The association has been active in Summit County since 1977. When Najjar took the helm of the group in 2019, he was a relatively new beekeeper with two years of experience. As a testament to the exciting nature of the hobby, Najjar is now completing the Master Beekeeper program at the University of Florida’s Honey Bee Research & Extension Lab.
With hives at the Crown Point Ecology Center, the association offers programs for people of all skill levels who want to learn about honeybees, reproduction, pollination, and many other related topics.
“Part of the training we have is to maintain those hives and keep them pristine and work on their survival and they produce a lot of honey for us,” he said.
Until recently, the club had about 40 to 50 members, but that number has grown exponentially in recent years and now hovers around 225.
Najjar attributes that growth in small part to his business and organizational skills, honed by owning his own digital security company over the past 30 years. The administration of the group is now digital and everything is documented.
But the bigger reason for the group’s growth is high-quality programming, which runs year-round and covers a range of bee-related topics, he said.
“COVID has brought an opportunity that no one could have ever imagined,” said the group’s vice president, Randy Katz.
Like most groups, beekeepers have held virtual meetings for the past two years, Katz said. That enabled them to attract experts in beekeeping and related topics from around the world for everything from workshops to virtual signings.
“We’ve just had incredible speakers,” Katz said.
Katz fell in love with bees several years ago when he attended a house and flower show and learned how pesticides, mites and viruses are causing a declining bee population, he said.
The show’s hosts promoted beekeeping, so he took a course, he said, and has continued to learn ever since.
Now Katz is the beekeeping inspector for Summit County, which has more than 400 apiaries.
“I’m going to stop by the people and look at their beehives with them,” he said. “Help them refine their craft.”
Katz is also an instructor for the classes, internships and regulations of the association.
Another member and experienced beekeeper is Emily Mueller, who, along with her husband Ryan Mueller, owns Honey Bee Co.
Mueller Bee offers honey products in local stores and has an online store of honey and elderberry products. The Muellers also have a hive removal service and sell honeybees to beekeepers.
For the Beekeepers Association, Emily Mueller teaches beekeeping management, describing what a beekeeper needs to know each month of the year, while caring for the beehive through the seasons.
“It’s very important to learn from month to month what to put in your hive,” she said. She also teaches classes on installing bees in the hive, producing a queen, giving treatments and many other topics, she said.
Mueller is known in the region as the “bee whisperer” after photos of her removing a honey bee hive from a local hospital made the rounds on social media.
Mueller, who was several months pregnant, wearing shorts and flip flops, seemed to remove the swarm easily without a single sting.
Since then, Mueller has covered himself with honeybees in photos that have gone viral.
Visit the website for more information about the Summit County Beekeepers Association. Beginning beekeeping classes start on February 12.