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Urban beehives on the rise in Northeast Ohio

Posted at 6:44 PM, Jun 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-01 08:51:36-04

CLEVELAND — In the far back corner of the Vino Veritas Winery near West 41st Street and Memphis Avenue is some of Phil Bartosh's favorite things.

A pale yellow beehive sits in the tall grass between a pond and a garden on the winery's property.

“There's over 336 registered apiaries in Cuyahoga County that I have to do my inspections of every year,” Bartosh said before putting on his protective suit and netted hat. "There's 14 apiaries in just these two zip codes."

Bartosh was at the winery to inspect the pale yellow hive cared for by Adrienne Kurtz. She keeps an Instagram account showing the progress of her more than 30,000 bees.

“They're actually kind of mild this morning,” Bartosh said when he opened the hive’s top.

During his time as a county inspector, Bartosh said the number of apiaries has grown from around 250 to 360.

Before he became a county inspector, Bartosh has been keeping bees for several years. He credits his wife Gayle with getting the couple into the hobby.

“(We) didn't know if we wanted to be beekeepers,” he said. “And then, my wife being the lucky person she was, won a package of bees. And it's history ever since."

The couple kept several hives on their property. He keeps them going for his enjoyment and also in her memory.

Gayle Bartosh had brain cancer and died in 2018.

"I always had my queens marked yellow because my wife could see the yellow,” he said. "I guess I got, for a lack of a better term, bit by the bee bug."

When Bartosh inspects hives, he looks for healthy bees and larvae. He also makes suggestions to keepers if needed.

"It's a really nice hive,” he said of Kurtz’s Old Brooklyn hive. "I'd give this an A-plus if I gave letter grades."

Speaking to experts like Bartosh is a learning experience. But you don’t have to be an expert to start a hive in your backyard.

"Actually urban beekeeping is easier on the bees than rural stuff because there isn't a lot of chemicals that they spray on fields here,” he said.

There are regulations for people who want to start a hive in Cuyahoga County. Each municipality will have different requirements. The Ohio State University has a 30-page resource for people looking to start an apiary.

"A bee person can be anyone,” said Mark Fleischer. "We need pollinators to survive."

Fleischer is new to beekeeping. He and his mentor, Ann Cicarella, were transferring bees on June 26th.

"Anyone can do it,” Cicarella echoed. As an avid beekeeper, Cicarella said if you want to start a hive finding a mentor is important.

“They want to help you survive,” Fleischer said. “They want to help bees.”

For the species, keeping colonies healthy and thriving is crucial to species survival.

U.S. beekeepers lost more than 40% of their honey bee colonies between April of 2019 and April of 2020, according to the Bee Informed Partnership. The nonprofit tracks bees and bee colonies in the country.

"Almonds, apples, peaches, oranges, blueberries, cranberries - all kinds of products,” Cicarella said standing near one of her backyard hives. “All the color foods you see in the grocery store we can attribute to the pollination of honey bees."

Part of the issue of colony decline is a lack of food source for bees. Fleischer, Cicarella, and Bartosh agree if bees don’t get you buzzing plant flowers instead.

"It really does make a difference. Every little thing you can do will help this species survive,” Fleischer said.

There are long lists online with plants for people interested in making their gardens pollinator-friendly.

For the trio of bee enthusiasts, bees in backyards are beneficial.

"If you have bees in your neighborhood, you're not missing anything,” Bartosh said. “If you have a garden that means you have more zucchini, more tomatoes, more squash, more peppers. They're the pollinators."

Batosh said there can be a few issues with bees if they are well cared for. Bees in an overcrowded hive can swarm and end up in places they shouldn’t be - like a neighbor’s porch. He also warns that bees like water, even swimming pools. So if you want to start a hive, have a water source ready.