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Backyard hives all the buzz in Fawn

| Thursday, May 15, 2014, 11:24 a.m.

Harvey Smith of Fawn practically pets his colony of about 30,000 honeybees.

Smith is among a record number of Pennsylvania beekeepers whose legions now reach about 2,300.

The buzz among such apiarists is that they are selling out of hives as well as admissions for beekeeping seminars.

Since 2011 and every year thereafter, registered beekeepers' numbers are swelling by 400 each year, according to Karen Roccasecca, Pennsylvania's state apiarist.

Some 85 percent of those registered beekeepers have 10 or fewer hives.

“What is spurring the growing numbers of beekeepers are that a lot of people are concerned about the decline in the honeybee population and they would like to help, and that is one way they can help,” Roccasecca said.

“The honeybees are beneficial on a local level in terms of pollinating their gardens and fruit trees,” she said. “Also, the honey and other products provide benefits, too.”

There were 350 attendees at this year's Western Pennsylvania Bee Seminar, according to Bill Kopar of Fawn, a longtime beekeeper who was one of the organizers. Kopar has more than 150 hives.

He sold out of hives in January, the quickest for his hives to go.

Beekeeping is fun and fascinating, according to devotees, who often harvest and sell their honey to pay for their hobby.

“Isn't this relaxing?” asks Smith, 65, a retired Vietnam War vet. “I had my coffee out here this morning just watching them.”

There's much to see this time of year as his busy bees collect pollen. The entrance to Smith's wooden hive is ringed in yellow from the pollen from nearby dandelions and mustard weeds.

“They're going crazy and they are working all of the time,” said Smith.

They'll pollinate Smith's red delicious apple trees and pear trees.

The honeybees are surprisingly lovable — but not in a cuddly sort of way.

They're not nasty like other insects that they're often mistaken for, such as wasps and hornets.

“Honeybees get a bad rap because of other insects,” he said.

But Smith knew how much fun the bees were when a natural honey beehive collapsed when he lost a large tree in his yard two years ago.

He worked with Kopar, a nearby beekeeper, to save the hive over the winter.

Those honeybees were surprisingly clingy: When they were out of sugar water, they would find Smith in the yard and just land on him.

According to Smith, it was their way of telling him that they needed to be fed.

“People say it's just weird how they come to me,” he said.

Still, the hive didn't survive the winter and Smith was let down.

Kopar set him up with a new colony and tools of the trade, such as a wooden hive.

Koper said getting people interested in bees has been relatively easy. He said media coverage of honeybee die-offs is fanning interest.

“We're getting enough information that is making people aware that honeybees are important to our food, and without them we're in a world of hurt,” Kopar said.

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