Swarms of fair-goers learn bees’ crucial role




A white dot makes her easy to notice as she makes her way around the hive. The real queen bee does not sing and dance, but she does keep the hive moving.

Without her, the worker bees would not be — and without the worker bees, the honey would not be.

“I enjoy the honey bees, and I know what a benefit they are to society and what dire straits we will be in if they disappear,” said Bruce Zimmer, president of the Columbiana and Mahoning County Beekeepers’ Association. “They are a major pollinator.”

Zimmer and members of the association are inside the Canfield Fair’s Fruit, Hay and Grain Building accessible through entrances on Smith and Springfield Drives throughout the six-day fair.

With their live observation hive on display at the fair, the members work to inform the public about bees and their importance.

They also sell sweet and waxy goodies made by the members’ bees. The funds raised at the fair go toward education on honey bees.

“The little kids love to be able to see the bees,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer offers children a chance to pet a bee, but little do they know they are really about to pet a miniature silver bee charm, which Zimmer gifts to them afterward.

Zimmer, a beekeeper for five years, got into bees when he realized he wasn’t seeing them as often as in the past.

“I found out the honey-bee population is declining,” he said.

Threats include mites and pesticides.

Now, Zimmer knows the whole process of what keeps the crops growing and puts the honey on the table.

The queen bee, the only fertile bee in the hive, makes all the worker bees. Those worker bees go out and get nectar from flowers, and they bring it back to put into the hexagonal wax cells they create in the hive.

“The bees stand over the cells and flap their wings to reduce the moisture [in the nectar],” Zimmer said.

Once that moisture is down to a desired 17 percent, the bee covers the cell with more wax to keep it for the winter.

“The whole purpose isn’t for us,” Zimmer said. “It’s for them [to eat].”

But the bees typically overproduce, so humans have honey to enjoy, too.

“What’s in the honey is natural pollen from the area,” Zimmer said. “That’s why it’s best to eat local honey.”

The bees only produce the honey through the end of September. During the winter, they form a cluster in the center of the hive and keep one another warm.

“They shiver their wing muscles to keep the queen warm,” Zimmer said. “They will slowly move around the hive to find more honey to eat.”

On Tuesday, the members were having their honey production tested for the fair honey competitions.

John Grafton of Steubenville travels all over to judge honey. He has been a beekeeper for more than 50 years and a judge since the late 1970s. His buzz for bees started when he was 10.

“It’s a 4-H project that got out of control,” Grafton said.

Grafton says it’s hard to pick a winner at times even with the tools he uses: the polariscope to find impurities in the honey, the refractometer to judge the moisture of the honey and taste buds to taste.

“These guys they have been competing for a number of years,” Grafton said of the Canfield Fair honey competitors. “They have really gotten good.”

For more information about the bee keepers’ association and honey bees, check out their display at the fair or go to: columbianamahoningbeekeepers.org/.

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