Stark Parks is trying to save honeybees by moving a couple of hives at Magnolia Flouring Mills. Why save them? Because honeybees are endangered, and we need them.
You’ve heard it before and barely believed it. Bees are our friends. It’s the whole pollination thing. One bad bee sting makes us want to argue against the claim, but scientifically, it’s true.
Well, add to that the endangerment of the little buzzers because of mites — Dwight Wells of the Ohio State Beekeepers Association calls the decline of honeybees in this state “a disaster in the making” — and you can see why Stark County Park District considered the rescue of two large hives at one of its sites a necessity.
Enter beekeepers Rick and Diane Blessing of Canton Township, two Stark Parks volunteers who tend almost 20 hives as a hobby.
Along with Stark Parks employees Paul Biedenbach and Jason Tennant, the couple showed up in mid-May to remove and save two pesky honeybee hives at Magnolia Flouring Mills, which the district owns. It has been in continuous operation since 1834, and was acquired by Stark Parks in 2005.
“Part of the park’s philosophy is preservation,” explained Biedenbach, Stark Parks facilities maintenance supervisor. “It’s tough to kill honeybees because of what they’re going through with the mites.”
One of the hives was located in the mill.
“If you look at it from the outside, they’re going in just above the ‘M’ in “Magnolia,’” said Rick Blessing. “When you look at it from the inside, they’re just above the floor of the third story, between a double wall.”
Those bees got a temporary delay in their house-moving, until a workbench could be cleared away and a strategy could be developed for getting at the honeybees through the interior wall.
But, on the evening of May 16, when the temperature cooled and the bee activity diminished, two boards were removed by Biedenbach and Tennant from another building at the site — a small former train depot used as restrooms for public tours — so the Blessings could remove a honeybee hive inside the walls of that structure.
Now behind the Magnolia Flouring Mills, the former B&O Railroad station was built in 1899, said Connie Rubin, public relations coordinator for Stark Parks. It was used until 1922, when it was moved from what is now Magnolia Park to behind the mill.
Before they went up to the hive location in a bucket lift, the park workers donned white suits that protected them from bees that might not want to leave their home. Bees buzzed around the pair as they cut the wood and removed two long lengths of exterior board.
“I didn’t get stung,” joked Tennant, who has been working for Stark Parks only a short time. “Usually when there are bees involved, I get stung. I just never thought in a million years I’d be doing anything like that.”
Page 2 of 3 - Then it was the Blessings’ turn to put on the suits and rise to a level where they could remove and save as much of the honeycomb material as possible and vacuum bees out of the hive.
The beekeepers already had captured many of the bees using a cone-shaped trap they attached to the hive’s entry point in days preceding the removal of it. Now they vacuumed more of the bees and placed them in boxes with portions of the hive.
The goal for the beekeepers was finding the queen, which would be needed to preserve the hive.
“The queen usually hides,” said Rick Blessing before turning on the industrial-strength vacuum whose suction would seek out the head of the hive. “We may never see her. We may accidentally suck her up and never know we have her.”
When the vacuuming was completed, and the Blessings stood back, it was clear from the number of bees still buzzing around the former location of the hive that the queen had eluded them.
“She got away from us and crawled back in there, and the rest of them are going to her,” explained Blessing. “If we don’t get the queen, I can make a queen by putting another brood in (with the bees). But the best thing is to get the queen.”
The Blessings decided to return the next night to remove another board and try again to capture her majesty the honeybee.
Who knew it was two kingdoms?
“We got two queens,” said Blessing later. “You never, ever see two queens.”
For a beekeeper, it was like mining for silver and finding it beside gold.
The hive removal work apparently had interrupted the natural order of things.
“When bees get crowded, they will swarm. They’ll take half the hive and leave,” Blessing explained. “What they do is create a new, young queen and she stays with the old hive, and the old queen leaves. I think what we did was disturb the process, so she didn’t leave.”
The Blessings saw the young queen emerge from her hiding place and hastily vacuumed her up. They figured the bees would follow her. “Bees always follow the queen,” Blessing said.
“But nothing happened. They didn’t care. They started going back to where they’d been. In fact, they formed a ball of bees. So I went back up and started vacuuming more bees, and when I did I sucked in the old queen.”
The Blessings separated the queens, divided up the bees, and are attempting to start a second hive with the young queen.
“They seem to be doing well,” Blessing said. “All she has to do is get out and find a mate and lay eggs.”
Page 3 of 3 - When that happens, this will be — or is that bee? — a story with a happy ending.