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Beekeepers and local residents Cindy Olsen and Paul Piszkiewicz inspected Olsen’s backyard hives earlier this week; as they predicted, the bees have been hard at work in recent weeks, producing a bounty of honey. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

What’s the buzz around Yellow Springs?

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It’s the busiest time of year for a bee.

Late spring has come to its crescendo as our local flora bursts with kaleidoscopic color. The threat of frost has waned and the sun hangs high in the sky. For pollen seekers such as the humble bee, the getting is good in late May.

For their occasional attendants — the beekeepers — springtime is also no lull. There’s much to be done. Hives must be inspected more frequently, parasites must be warded off and there ought to be enough space for the bees to build out their comb.

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“Now is when the iron is hot,” village resident and backyard beekeeper Cindy Olsen said in a recent interview. “The bees are ramping up their foraging. All those ladies are leaving to do their jobs.”

And that job, of course, is making honey. Lots of it.

As Olsen said, April through June is peak production time for bees, what she called “honey flow” season — that is, when the collected flower nectar has broken down into simple sugars, and the full honeycomb arrays are ready to be harvested regularly.

To mark that seasonal deluge of honey and to celebrate both the two-legged and winged workers who made it, the Greene County Beekeepers Association — for which OIsen is the secretary, and a growing number of Yellow Springs keepers are members — will host the annual Honey Harvest on Saturday, June 15.

Taking place at Glen Helen’s Camp Greene, from 11 a.m.–4 p.m., the family friendly Honey Harvest will feature beekeeping equipment, a demonstration of honey extraction, bee-related activities and products and experienced beekeepers on hand to answer questions. Food trucks also will be on-site, and local honey will be available for purchase.

A sweet arrangement

Joined by fellow beekeeper Paul Piszkiewicz, Olsen sat down with the News in her lush backyard on Helen Court earlier this week. Sipping honey-infused tea, she gazed at her colorful hives — each hand-painted, showing flowery scenes.

“Aren’t they just fascinating?” Olsen asked, watching as thousands of bees hypnotically flitted in and out of their homes.

A former professor and practitioner of family and geriatric medicine, Olsen rekindled a childhood interest in bees when she retired several years ago. She started with one hive, and now, in her fourth year of keeping bees, she’s up to four.

“It’s a contagious hobby,” Olsen said with a laugh.

Owing to her career in medicine and biology, Olsen said she is naturally drawn to the science of apiculture, or beekeeping. 

“Each unit — or hive — is a super organism,” she said. “There’s not one individual insect that’s more important than another. Not even the queen. Each one is like a cell in a larger organism — just like our bodies.”

Likewise, Piszkiewicz, a retiree who keeps bees on his four-acre home in Sugarcreek Township, said the allure of bees is an academic one. He and his wife — also with backgrounds in biology — relish the life lessons offered by his bees.

“Always learning something new is important,” he said. “It’s not just about the honey, but coming to understand how these semi-domesticated animals behave and why. Beekeeping is a matter of problem solving and flexibility.”

Beyond bonding with the bees themselves, both Olsen and Piszkiewicz have, from their beekeeping hobby, forged new connections with like-minded ecologists and nature enthusiasts throughout the region — mostly through the fellowship within the Greene County Beekeepers Association, or GCBA, and the group’s community outreach.

Today, the GCBA boasts 120 members from throughout the county, with nearly 10 residing in Yellow Springs.

According to Piszkiewicz, those numbers are growing annually as the organization expands its slate of bee-based educational programming.

One such is the annual 4H scholarship program, which Olsen said is funded from donations and member dues and goes to support children interested in beekeeping. Each year, the GCBA selects several youths to receive mentorship and, eventually, a hive of their own.

Another community service offered by the GCBA is the swarm collection initiative.

Bee colonies whose populations have swelled beyond the confines of a hive, give rise to swarms, which sometimes find a temporary home in a backyard tree, attic or garage. As a way to keep homeowners or local residents from exterminating a swarm, the GCBA offers a “swarm list” of association members willing to safely collect the wayward bees.

“It’s a part of the skillset of a beekeeper, knowing how to prevent and capture swarms,” Olsen explained. “Plus, a swarm is a special resource. It’s like finding money.”

Village resident, farmer and beekeeper Rose Pelzl told the News earlier this week that, with help from Olsen, she captured a swarm that landed in a tree at a Stewart Street home. With the addition of that swarm, Pelzl now has four hives at her Yellow Springs farm.

“I love working with bees, especially with a friend,” Pelzl said. “It helps me to explain out loud what I’m seeing and why we do things in a certain order — remembering important observations, since it can be a bit overwhelming to inspect a large hive.”

Pelzl — also a GCBA member — launched her Forest Village Farm two years ago, now replete with chickens, a growing food forest, an occasional pop-up farm stand and, of course, her precious bees. As Pelzl said, her bees’ honey is “an important product” that is helping to make her nascent farm financially sustainable.

While Olsen and Piszkiewicz said they certainly appreciate the honey made in their yards — with a typical five gallons produced annually from a given hive — they said the most cherished byproducts of their sweet arrangement with the bees are often intangible.

“Bees respond to your behavior,” Olsen said, adding that she hasn’t been stung in several years. “If you go out [to the hives] all anxious and sweaty, they’ll respond in turn and be grumpy. I say ‘hello’ every time I open their boxes, move really slow and gently.”

She continued: “You can’t have anger management issues when beekeeping. You learn to lower your voice, reduce your heart rate. And so, for us humans, bees can teach us how to regulate our emotions — how to meditate, regulate our emotions and ground ourselves in the present.”

Meeting local, global needs

Olsen, Piszkiewicz, Pelzl and their county cohort of beekeepers certainly aren’t the only stewards of pollinators.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent census released in February, the country’s honeybee population is at an all-time high. In the report, nearly a million bee colonies have been installed in the last five years, coming to a total of 3.8 million.

This data marks a significant turn since 2006, when colony collapse disorder — the rapid and abrupt decimation of honeybee colonies — was first reported by a commercial beekeeper from Pennsylvania who overwintered his colonies in Florida. A rash of beekeepers worldwide reportedly noticed the same phenomenon.

With bees — both native and domestic species like honeybees — pollinating more than 80% of the country’s flowering plants and produce, alarms were sounded in every agricultural sector, according to USDA data. Taking on the mantle to reverse the effects of colony collapse have been farmers and hobbyists across the country.

As Pelzl told the News, word of colony collapse disorder was a “wake-up call” for her and farmers at large “for something very wrong with how we treat the planet.”

“It was affecting the bottom line of a 15 billion dollar industry, and threatened crop pollination,” she said.

Still, despite the USDA’s reported increase in the number of honeybee colonies — which have been contested by some academics and nonprofits such as the Bee Informed Partnership — pollinators are still under siege. Research indicates that habitat destruction, widespread usage of insecticides and chemical treatments on commercial monoculture farms, the proliferation of bee parasites such as the varroa mite, and more continue to threaten pollinator populations.

“That’s why education is an important component of what we do,” Olsen said of her county beekeepers association. “Becoming a backyard beekeeper is not necessarily the only solution.”

She and Piszkiewicz agreed that reducing lawn mowing, planting more pollinator-friendly plants, avoiding chemical treatments and keeping gardens “messy” by leaving leaves on the ground and dead plant stalks intact in off seasons are all ways local residents can support native and honeybee populations.

“Our organization is not just about beekeeping, but promoting local efforts,” Olsen said.

To learn more about those efforts, the public is invited to join Olsen, Piszkiewicz, Pelzl and other Greene County Beekeepers Association members at their next monthly meeting on Tuesday, May 21, at 7 p.m., at 635 Dayton-Xenia Road for a presentation from Garrett Slater on “The Importance of Queens” and colony health. The annual Honey Harvest festival is set for Saturday, June 15, 11 a.m.–4 p.m., at Glen Helen’s Camp Greene.

For additional information about the Greene County Beekeepers Association — including contact information for those volunteers a part of the group’s swarm reclamation team — go to


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