SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio — A growing group of bee-lovers are looking beyond the snow to a time when bees are waking up, hives come to life and honey is flowing.
Meanwhile, the Summit County Beekeepers Association has donated 100 pounds of honey to the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank and will roll out its annual Beginner Beekeepers Courses.
Each year, the association offers beekeeping classes with an indoor component in February and a practical session in the spring, the group said.
The courses are a way to welcome new members, including those who do not intend to have their own apiary, and to fulfill the association’s mission to promote beekeeping and make bees known. .
“It’s an addictive hobby and you develop such a passion for these bees,” said association 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 over as leader of the group in 2019, he was a relatively new beekeeper with two years of experience. A testament to the fascinating nature of this hobby, Najjar is currently completing the Masters in Beekeeping program at the University of Florida’s Honey Bee Research & Extension Lab.
With beehives at the Crown Point Ecology Center, the association offers programs for people of all skill levels who want to learn about honey bees, propagation, pollination, and many other related topics.
“Part of the training we have is to maintain these hives and keep them intact and work on surviving them and, and they produce a lot of honey for us,” he said.
Until recently, the club had around 40-50 members, but that number has grown exponentially over the past two years and now stands at over 225.
Najjar attributes this growth in small part to his business and organizational skills, honed by owning his own digital security company over the past 30 years. The group’s archives are now digital and everything is documented.
But the main 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 group vice president Randy Katz.
Like most groups, beekeepers have shifted to virtual meetings over the past two years, Katz said. This has allowed them to attract experts in beekeeping and related subjects from around the world, for everything from workshops to virtual signings.
“We had amazing speakers,” Katz said.
Katz fell in love with bees many years ago when he attended a house and flower show and learned how pesticides, mites and viruses are causing bee population declines, did he declare.
The show’s presenters were promoting beekeeping, so he took a course, he said, and has continued to learn ever since.
Today, Katz is the apiaries inspector for Summit County, which has more than 400 apiaries.
“I’m going to stop and visit people and watch their hive with them,” he said. “Help them polish their craft.”
Katz is also an instructor for the courses, clinics and regulations of the association.
Another member and qualified beekeeper is Emily Mueller, who together with her husband Ryan runs the Mueller Honey Bee Co.
Mueller Bee offers honey products in local stores and has an online retail store offering honey and elderberry products. The Muellers also operate a hive removal service and sell bees to beekeepers.
For the beekeepers’ association, Emily Mueller teaches beekeeping management, outlining what a beekeeper needs to know each month of the year, as hive care shifts with the seasons.
“It’s very important to learn month by month what to do in your hive,” she says. She also teaches classes on how to install bees in the hive, how to produce a queen, how to give treatments and many other topics, she said.
Mueller is known locally as the “bee whisperer”, after photos of her removing a hive of bees from a local hospital made the rounds on social media.
Mueller, who was several months pregnant, wearing shorts and flip flops, seemed to pull off the swarm with ease without a single sting.
Since then, Mueller has covered herself in bees in photos that have gone viral.
To learn more about the Summit County Beekeepers Association, visit their website. Beginner beekeeping courses start on February 12.