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Keep on the honey side of life

Vandalism among reasons for buzz about beekeeping

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SIOUX CITY -- It's always a pleasant experience for those of us who take a more cynical view of things to encounter the optimists out there who choose to find the positive side of negative situations.

By now, most Siouxlanders are familiar with Justin and Tori Englehardt, who believed their Wild Hill Honey business was wiped out when they discovered on Dec. 28 that vandals had destroyed their 50 beehives, resulting in the death of half a million bees.

The story struck a nerve with people and went viral, quickly spreading across the internet. Soon, hundreds of people from across the country had donated more than $30,000, a sum that will enable the Englehardts to rebuild their Sioux City business and resume operations in the spring. (Police have since arrested two boys, ages 12 and 13, on charges of criminal mischief and burglary.)

You could almost feel the positive vibes from all those generous donors willing to help a Sioux City couple most of them had never met.

Those vibes continue to reverberate.

On Thursday night, Dordt College agriculture professor Duane Bajema hosted the first session of a Beginning Beekeeping course at the Iowa State University Extension's Woodbury County office in Sioux City.

He said earlier in the day that he had received 13 registrations. More than 35 people showed up that night.

A master beekeeper who has kept bees for more than 40 years, Bajema has seen interest in bees rise in recent years as more stories circulate about the disappearance of honeybees and the negative effect that losing pollinators could have on agriculture.

He watched with interest as news of the vandalism to Wild Hill Honey spread throughout the beekeeping world. Vandalism is nothing new to beekeepers, he said as he listed bees' top predators as bears, skunks, opossums and humans.

The first three on that list will eat bees or their honey. The fourth on the list ... well, some humans tend to do stupid things like destroy beehives.

"It happens," Bajema said. "Kids dare one another. In the meantime, the beekeeper is the victim."

Usually, you don't hear about such incidents. The Sioux City case was an exception, and Bajema takes an optimists' view of the situation.

"You always try to find the positive in negative things," he said.

That positive could be found Thursday night as he asked those attending his class why they were there.

Many said they'd always been interested in bees and thought it would be an interesting, fun hobby. Others want to keep bees so they can harvest their own honey. A couple people mentioned their desire to help save bees, to make a positive impact on the environment by enabling the small pollinators to do their work.

Mark Garlick and Patti Fravel know people who either currently or in the past kept bees, so they already had some interest in beekeeping. The married couple decided in December, after seeing news reports of the vandalism, that it was time to put their thoughts into action.

"We were really spitting mad about that, and we decided maybe we need to learn a little more about (beekeeping)," Garlick said.

Fravel said the apple and pear trees on their small acreage outside Sioux City will be a good bee environment. Garlick enjoys listening to the soft buzzing of the bees that cover their lavender bush every year when it blooms.

Both enjoy honey and appreciate bees' role in nature. That's why the news of the vandalism upset them, Garlick said.

"I was so startled by the stories," he said. "I was so astonished I felt that strongly."

So they decided to do what they could in their little corner of the world to make a positive out of a negative event.

"It would be a small thing to help the environment," Garlick said.

Bajema senses similar feelings out there. More people, he said, are beginning to associate beehives not with bee stings, but with pollination and its importance to our food supply.

It's a positive response by humans that gives a cynic a more optimistic outlook on bees and their future in the environment.


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