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Murrysville

Grant has children abuzz about bees in Murrysville

Patrick Varine
| Wednesday, July 18, 2018, 4:36 p.m.

What's the buzz about this summer at the Murrysville Community Library?

It's about bees, both in the books and at the front door, where a grant recently funded the installation of a small bee garden.

Through a $2,000 grant from the Westmoreland Community Foundation's Michael J. and Aimee Rusinko Kakos Fund, library officials invited area children to learn about honeybees and do their part to help boost their dwindling numbers.

The Kakos Fund has focused on gardening grants in recent years. Last year gardening grants went to eight libraries throughout the county, including a butterfly garden at the Delmont Public Library.

"Because we don't have a ton of space, since this isn't our property, we decided to seek a grant to create small 'bee-garden' planters outside the library," said Director Jamie Falo.

The grant allowed library officials to foster partnerships throughout the Murrysville community: with the Murrysville Economic and Community Development Corp., which aided in picking out planters to match what municipal officials have placed elsewhere on the property; with local apiarist Ron Laufer of Washington Township, who gave a presentation on beekeeping and brought protective suits for kids to try on; and with the Murrysville Garden Club, whose members helped select plants to attract pollinators.

Laufer began keeping bees about five years ago, and has done similar presentations at libraries in Plum and his hometown of Penn Hills.

"One of the biggest things people can do (to promote bee populations) is be as limited as you can with chemicals," Laufer said. "When the bees come out in March, one of the first flowers they go to is dandelions. But people spray dandelions to kill them. Then the bees carry those chemicals back to the hive with the pollen they collect."

Elevated bee-loss rates have been an agricultural concern for the past decade, since a mysterious malady called Colony Collapse Disorder coincided with a doubling of honeybee death rates and spurred greater attention and research on commercial and wild bees, according a Reuters report from late May.

For the 12-month period ending March 31, 2018, commercial-scale beekeepers, those with 500 or more hives, fared best, reporting 26 percent losses, according to a survey conducted by Auburn University and the University of Maryland. Mid-range apiarists reported a 38 percent loss, while so-called "backyard beekeepers," those with fewer than 50 hives, saw 46 percent hive losses over the year.

This past winter, Laufer lost all nine of his hives and had to start over again.

The survey had 4,794 responses from beekeepers in all U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia who collectively manage more than 175,000 colonies, 6.6 percent of the managed-bee population.

At two sessions this summer, children had a chance to talk with a local beekeeper, pot small bee-friendly plants they could take home, create bee puppets and learn songs about bees.

"You want it to be hands-on, as visual and tactile as possible," said Murrysville Garden Club member Diana Sanner, who is also a former kindergarten teacher.

Falo said the Kakos Fund's gardening grants were the perfect opportunity to mix leisure and learning for the library's younger patrons.

"This is another way for us to educate kids about bees and to teach them not to be afraid of them," she said.

Above, local beekeeper Ron Laufer shows children a standard beehive and bee suits at the Murrysville Community Library.
Submitted photo
Above, local beekeeper Ron Laufer shows children a standard beehive and bee suits at the Murrysville Community Library.
Lillian and Patrick Tomko show off the beeswax candles they created at the library.
Submitted photo
Lillian and Patrick Tomko show off the beeswax candles they created at the library.
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