Plans for barn renovation uncover a honey of a problem in Zelienople
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Georgia Berner and her husband, Jim Farber, were planning to remodel a part of their old Zelienople barn. They were going to transform one wing into a family room, ideal for entertaining friends as well as viewing the valley that sprawls in the distance.
But there was one problem.
Actually, there were thousands of buzzing little problems.
Several colonies of wild honeybees had settled into a wall in the exact area Ms. Berner planned to renovate. They had been colonizing for nearly 12 years.
Over the years, Ms. Berner said, she and the bees had lived in harmony. She had gotten used to them and they seemed all right with her.Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette
Craig Cella, a bee inspector with the state Department of Agriculture, looks for the queen bee in one of two honeybee hives removed from a barn wall in Zelienople yesterday.
Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette
A honeybee clings to honey covering beekeeper Kevin Lutz's hand. Mr. Lutz used his bare hands to remove two huge honeybee hives from the barn of Jim Farber and Georgia Berner.
Click photo for larger image.
Ms. Berner, who is a Democratic congressional candidate in the state's 4th District, didn't want anything to happen to the bees, so she phoned Kevin Lutz, a beekeeper who lives just up the road, and asked for his help.
In August, Mr. Lutz went to the barn and discovered not one but four colonies of bees. In the intervening months, two colonies either died off or moved on.
Mr. Lutz suspected the bees were unusual because they were semi-wild, had grown from one to four colonies and had survived for about 12 years.
"If a colony lives for two years, it's rare, especially for a wild colony," said Mr. Lutz. "There are certain colonies that have grooming ability, which allows them to groom each other, removing mites. But for them to last that long isn't normal."
After inspecting the bees, Mr. Lutz contacted officials in the entomology department at Penn State University who confirmed their importance. They were identified as honeybee Apis mellifera.
Mr. Lutz persuaded Ms. Berner to delay the remodeling project until the bees could be safely removed.
And that's just what happened yesterday.
At around 10 a.m., Mr. Lutz and Craig Cella, a Pennsylvania bee inspector, removed several thousand bees from the wall and gently placed them into combs and wooden frames.Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette
Local beekeeper Kevin Lutz talks about the honeybee colony found in the walls of the barn. The hive behind him is believed to be more than 10 years old..
Click photo for larger image.
Some of the bees from the parent colony will be taken to Penn State, where they will be examined for mites and such viruses as deformed wing. Mr. Lutz will take the others to his farm.
After the wall was removed, Mr. Cella sprayed the bees down with a light mist of sugar water. The water keeps the bees occupied and calms them while the honey is removed.
"The queen bee sets the temperament for the colony," said Mr. Cella. "If she is calm, the rest of the colony will be, too."
The queen of the first colony must have been congenial because neither Mr. Cella nor Mr. Lutz wore gloves as they tore away the honey.
"Experienced bee handlers rarely wear gloves," said Mr. Cella.
After several moments, Mr. Cella located drones, then the queen bee, which was hidden away in a comb.
"Here she is," he said.
Mr. Cella said honeybees pollinate about 90 percent of all fruits and vegetables, including apples, peaches, soybeans, pumpkins, grapes and snap beans.
He said the honeybee population is dying off because of mites and viruses and estimates there are precious few wild bees left in America.
"I thought all I was going to do was remove a colony of honeybees, but discovered an impending natural and economic disaster," said Ms. Berner.
"The commercial beekeepers and small farmers are going to lose their livelihood if bees are not saved in the United States."
First Published May 8, 2006 12:00 am