ZANESVILLE — Beekeeping had always interested Tony Coury, but it wasn’t until 2010 that he decided to go a step further and make it a serious endeavor.
He was slated to have ankle replacement surgery and would be off work from the Zanesville Police Department for an extended period. He saw an ad that offered training for beekeeping and “I decided I would have the time to attend instead of just sitting around,” he said.
As a result of his training, Coury became a member of the East Central Ohio Beekeepers Association. The group supports Fairfield, Licking, Muskingum and Perry counties and meets at Dawes Arboretum.
“Earl James, a well-known area beekeeper, helped me get my first packages of bees in the spring of 2011,” he said.
After James’ passing, Coury has continued to mentor with Ed Rowland, of Buckeye Lake.
Coury is not the only beekeeper at ZPD. Patrolman Jimmy Devoll got involved three years ago, assisting Coury with a tricky hive removal on a downed maple tree. The tree had come apart during a windstorm, and the two worked with chain saws and a specialized bee vacuum to relocate the hive.
Most of the honey bees come from Georgia or Florida because of the warmer weather. The bees come in the mail in boxes, with a container of syrup and one queen bee.
There are about 10,000 to 11,000 bees inside, and they weigh about 3 pounds.
“The queen is kept separate in a little container, and the bees feed her even though she is not their mother,” Coury said. “They know she is a queen because she emits pheromones.”
Coury said honeybees swarm because of overcrowdedness in the hive and their instinct to repopulate. But there’s no need to fear.
“When they are swarming, they are not overly aggressive,” he said. “They don’t usually sting then. Scout bees will lead them to a new place, and they swarm for only one to three days.”
Even though he wears a bee veil and protective gloves, Devoll has been stung “too many times to count.” The duo makes a little money selling honey, but a passion for their work is the real reason behind all the difficult labor.
“It takes my mind off work and relieves stress,” Devoll said. “It’s really fascinating to get into the life of the bee, to see how many eggs are laid and the stages of the larvae. To witness and be a part of their life cycle — it’s just awesome.”
Honey bees are very important to the environment and have been disappearing lately. The No. 1 problem is the parasitic mite Varroa destructor. Mites feed on the larvae and lead to undersized bees and deformed wings.
Coury and Devoll treat the mite infestation with a special paste that helps to keep the problem under control.
There are many resources for the serious beekeeper. Devoll said he researches bees regularly. Both he and Coury have been to classes throughout the state and work to improve the productivity of their hives.
“It’s really neat knowing these bees you are caring for are going out and pollinating your neighbors’ plants,” Devoll said.
A worker bee lives about four weeks in the summer and about four weeks during the winter.
“A worker works in the hive for two weeks in the summer and two weeks outside,” he said. “They literally work themselves to death.”
One out of every three bites of food people eat has been pollinated by a bee, Coury said.
“Researchers have said, when all the bees are gone, life may only exist another four years,” he said.
His apiary has grown from two hives to 16. The queen is just an egg layer. She lays about 2,500 eggs each day. The workers also are females. The only male bee is a drone, and his only job is mating with the queen. He then dies shortly afterwards.
“He is a typical guy,” Coury quipped. “He does absolutely nothing at home.”
One bee makes one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its life. Coury collects and sells the honey to support the upkeep of his bees.
His main goal in beekeeping is to have colonies of bees that sustain themselves. A queen bee can live up to four years, and Coury re-queens every couple of years.
“Strong hives keep healthy bees,” he said.
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