TEMPLETON — Beekeepers from Armstrong, Butler, Clarion and Indiana counties are looking forward to a day-long seminar on the care and feeding of feral bee colonies to be held at the Belmont Complex in Kittanning on Saturday, Jan. 19. The wild bees are proving to be a more robust option in the face of colony collapse and tracheal mite infestations that have depressed crop pollination in recent years.
Dan Lynch and his wife, Anita, apiarists in the Templeton area, are among the dozens of feral-bee fans in the four-county area. A past president of Beekeepers of ABCI, the regional interest group, Lynch is known for answering area homeowners’ distress calls who find themselves the unwilling owners of bee swarms.
“I just have a way with bees,” Lynch said. “A lot of the time, I go to pick up a swarm without wearing a bee veil and never get stung.”
There are stories of Lynch retrieving a swarm that had set up housekeeping inside a pickup truck’s bed cover. Crawling inside and lying on his back, Lynch coaxed the bees into a bucket before taking them to a more appropriate setting.
In the recent past, Lynch’s services have been required at residences along Penn Street and in the Dog Hill neighborhood in New Bethlehem.
“I try to stick to swarms that are out in the open,” Lynch said. “I have to call in outside help if they are inside the walls or in the attic of somebody’s house.”
Lynch and his wife take their honeybee enthusiasm on the road, visiting elementary schools and assisted-living facilities with a form of traveling hive. Lynch said that one youngster was so impressed that he provided a running commentary on the source of everything on his dinner plate that night.
The boy’s father, Armstrong County Coroner Brian Myers, also a beekeeper, smiled through the meal.
At Lynch’s urging, ABCI sought out bee expert Dwight Wells as a keynote speaker at the Jan. 19 conference. Wells, a native of Porter Township in Clarion County, is a retired General Motors engineer whose beekeeping hobby became a second career.
Wells said that his passion for bees began at the age of 5 when he noticed one sitting on a dandelion. He was enraptured by the insect, but his mother made him take it back outside. Nevertheless, he was hooked for life.
“Tracheal mites have been a problem for the Western honeybee for many years,” Wells said. “But sometime between 1990 and 2005, feral bees began developing the ability to fight back and attack them.”
Interest in testing the genes of the super bees led Wells to begin trapping their swarms and applying for federal agricultural grants. From this, selective breeding led to improved swarms at participating apiary programs at Purdue, Cornell, Ohio State and Penn State universities.
Wells and his cohort of PhD geneticists go looking for feral swarms in spring and autumn in Western Pennsylvania.
“Feral bees are more resistant to mites and are just more robust in general,” Wells said. “They play an essential role in this country’s food production.”
Beyond fertilizing fruit trees and garden flowers, bees pollinate crops as diverse as buckwheat and beans. While there are many insects that can fill this role, none does it better than the honeybee, and the feral variety tops its domesticated cousin every time.
In addition to improved pollination, the honey produced by local colonies is highly prized. Allergy sufferers believe that local honey is beneficial in giving them relief from seasonal sneezing and watery eyes.
Registration for the Beekeepers of ABCI conference has ended. For information about the club and upcoming events, interested current and prospective beekeepers can go to the group’s website at www.beekeepers-of-abci-pa.com.