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Environment & Energy

Downtown Buzzes With Bee Wise Experts

Gardeners swarmed the Allegheny County Courthouse garden on Wednesday where Pennsylvania State University master gardeners handed out free plants and answered questions during Bee Wise, an annual informational event.

"We are trying to make the community more aware of native plants and pollinators," said Penn State master gardener Susan Mortensen. 

Fellow master gardener and event coordinator Amy Dering said she believes bees are often misunderstood, and many people are put off by the fear of getting stung.

"You have to learn to live with the bees and all the other bugs, because most of them are beneficial," she said.

Visitors strolled past a glass display case housing a colony of active bees and a boxed collection bearing different preserved and labeled bee species.

Steve Repasky, master beekeeper and president of Allegheny County's beekeeping association, Burgh Bees, talked to onlookers about bee colonies and the difficulties of beekeeping. Honeybee populations have been on decline for a decade due to Colony Collapse Disorder, which includes the combined effects of pesticides, pathogens, pests and poor nutrition, Repasky said.

He said an acceptable population loss nationally for beekeepers' colonies is around 10 to 15 percent per year; today that number nears 40 percent.

The USDA reported a 17 percent loss of colonies from January to March of this year. And unfortunately, said Master Gardener Philip Bauerle, bees aren't the only pollinator in danger. Other pollinators include moths, hummingbirds, bats and butterflies

Master gardeners handed out Berkey Creamery ice cream cones. Honeybees are an integral part of those iconic flavors, said Philip Bauerle, master gardener coordinator for Penn State Extension.

"Without bees, there's no peaches for the Peachy Paterno. Without bees, there's no blueberries for the Alumni Swirl," Bauerle said.

Though the situation is dire for honeybees, Repasky said the community is showing more interest. Burgh Bees is often contacted to put on presentations for schools, scout organizations and community events like Bee Wise. 

"Every Beekeeper is overwhelmed with requests on how they can help the bees; 'where can we buy honey,'" Repasky said.

Like the master gardeners, he advises that people plant native pollinator plants and buy local honey to support the region's beekeepers.