Local beekeeper John Schellenberger and his long-time mentor Kenny Schneider examine a brood frame, which holds bee eggs, larvae and pupae. Submitted photo
Local beekeeper John Schellenberger and his long-time mentor Kenny Schneider examine a brood frame, which holds bee eggs, larvae and pupae. Submitted photo
NEW ALBANY — Last week in Texas, over half a million bees were lost after several hives were set on fire and thrown into ponds south of Houston. Another report from National Geographic identified increasing cases of hives being stolen from beekeepers.

Such incidents occur as bee populations are shrinking to critically low numbers.

Beekeepers in Indiana have also been on the receiving end of antagonizing behavior. Their problems, however, haven't only been with vandals and thieves, but with local governments, specifically those in the Indianapolis area.

"There were some municipalities that were trying to ban beekeeping," John Schellenberger, Floyd County Commissioner and vice president of the Beekeepers of Indiana [TBOI], said. "TBOI are not against municipalities placing reasonable restrictions, but banning can’t happen. We all need honey bees. One third of the food we eat comes from what the honeybees pollinate. We formed an ad-hoc committee, and we did some research on what other states had done."

To help in the process, Schellenberger reached out to Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, and Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville. The resulting legislation was Senate Bill 529, which prevents any outright ban of beekeeping by local municipalities.

"It basically says that the entities can put in restrictions as far as the number of hives per square footage and the placement of the hives," Schellenberger said. "Any beekeeper who is a concerned beekeeper, we understand those types of restrictions. All we’re asking is that they not prohibit hives."

One of the causes of the bans, Schellenberger said, is a misguided fear of aggressive bees.

"People know someone who goes into anaphylactic shock, so they get scared," Schellenberger said. "They think a bumblebee is a honeybee, but they’re different. A lot of people are scared through lack of education. We need to let them know how important bees are. On top of that, honey bees are not aggressive. Of course, if you go into their hive, it’s like breaking into their house. They're going to protect their house."

In order to help educate, organizations like the 1,900-member TBOI are pushing harder to engage the public. Over 32 local beekeeping clubs have been established throughout the state, including Floyd County's Spring Valley Beekeepers.

"Floyd County has one, Clark County has one, and Salem has one," Schellenberger said. "We encourage people to come. There are no dues. People just come in and we talk. More people are showing up. They’re stepping up and showing that they’re interested."

Through these meetings, beekeepers discuss issues like how to protect their bees from the highly destructive varroa mite. Some of the more seasoned beekeepers even take it upon themselves to mentor "wanna-bee" beekeepers.

A more structured form of education is available at the Purdue Extension, where Gina Anderson leads Beekeeping A to Z. For a one-time fee of $50, prospective beekeepers can join Anderson once or twice a month — depending on the season — and learn the ropes of the trade.

“We started Beekeeping A to Z because there were a lot of people who had an interest in beekeeping but didn’t know if they wanted to do it," Anderson said. "People can learn to do everything with the bees at my office. It’s a relatively minimal investment. They will look at the hive, learn when to feed the bees, how to harvest the honey, and how to make a business plan."

Local beekeepers not only provide food directly to customers from the hive, such as honey, but they also allow people to eat several other foods that they wouldn't usually connect with bees.

“Bees are one of many, many pollinators in our world," Anderson said. "Without bees and other pollinators, we would have a very a limited diet. With the pollinators, we’re able to have the variety of foods we have."

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