Courtesy of the Greenfield Daily Reporter
Keian Gatewood has a slightly different hobby than most teenagers. While other 16-year-olds might be into sports or video games, Gatewood likes beekeeping. Yes, beekeeping, as in actually bees and the huge, white suits that look like they belong in a spaceship.
The bee fascination began six years ago after he bought honeycomb and honey from a local bee farmer at a farmer’s market. Gatewood said he was intrigued, even at 10 years old, about someone having their own bees and wanted to learn more. So the farmer invited him out to his farm to see his hives and Gatewood knew he wanted to get some hives of his own.
So after a few years of saving up money and bugging his mom, Gatewood was able to get some hives of his very own.
“I’m really into the business side of beekeeping,” Gatewood, who just finished his junior year at Mt. Vernon High School, said. “I’ve sold my own honey and I want to be a business owner or entrepreneur when I’m done with high school.”
Recently, Gatewood decided to share his passion with the rest of his classmates and start a beekeeping club at Mt. Vernon. After talking things over with school superintendent Shane Robbins and principal Greg Roach, Gatewood got the go-ahead to start his club and about two weeks ago, the club got its bees.
“I’m not really a commercial beekeeper, but I wanted to teach my friends how to care for bees,” Gatewood said.
Before he started his own journey as a mentor to others, Gatewood spent a lot of time with Tom Ferguson, who introduced him to the world of beekeeping. Ferguson said the two of them have a very positive relationship and said he’s proud of what Gatewood has been able to accomplish at a very young age.
“He’s very keen and smart and easy to work with,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson, who has been keeping bees since 1984, said he believes strongly in the mentor relationship when it comes to learning how to be a beekeeper.
“There’s really nothing that replaces time in the hive,” Ferguson said. “I think that’s the most important part of having a relationship with someone with experience.”
Gatewood has also learned from several other beekeepers in Hancock County, including Ron Myers who heads up a beekeeping club in the county. Myers said Gatewood has been a regular attender and has been quick to pick up on things.
Time in the hive is exactly what Gatewood and four other Mt. Vernon students were getting last week. On a sweltering day with final exams and the end of the school year close at hand, five students were in giant white beekeeper suits, learning the basics of beekeeping.
Gatewood had given the group lessons on beekeeping before, but this was the first time they were able to get into the two hives now located by the fenced-in retention pond behind Fortville Elementary School. Gatewood said the club got the bees a few weeks ago but gave them time to adjust before getting into the hives.
“If you go in too early, they won’t think the hive is safe and they’ll just fly away,” Gatewood said.
The bees seemed well-adjusted as the students were in the hives, checking to see if the bees were starting to make honeycomb and searching for the queens. Even without using smoke — a typical method of calming bees down — Gatewood and the others were able to go through both hives without angering the bees.
Most of the equipment, including the suits and hives, was purchased from Bastin Honey Bee Farms in Knightstown. Joe Bastin, the co-owner, said they decided to donate two queen bees to help kick-start things. Queen bees generally cost about $30 or $40 dollars apiece. Bastin said they love getting involved with people trying to enter the world of beekeeping and were glad to help get the Mt. Vernon club off the ground.
Throughout the exercise at Mt. Vernon, Gatewood shared as much as he could, pointing out the queen, commenting on how the combs looked, showing proper techniques for how to pull the frames of the hive out and, most importantly, giving the other students a chance to do it themselves.
“He’s leaving a tremendous legacy behind, starting this club,” Mt. Vernon High School Principal Greg Roach said. “Hopefully, he can come back 10, 20 years from now and see that this club is still strong and still doing great things.”
Roach said he and the school board were impressed with how Gatewood presented the idea and answered any questions that they had. Gatewood said a large part of beekeeping is dispelling rumors about bees and how dangerous they are.
“They’re actually very unlikely to sting you,” he said. “They know they’ll die if they sting, so they use that as a last resort only if they think the hive is in danger.”
By putting the hive by a pond and in an area with lots of open field, Gatewood said the bees won’t have anything to go in search of, leading to fewer run-ins with people. The hive is also located behind a locked fence.
The benefits of bees should be enough to assuage the fears people may have, according to Gatewood and Ferguson, especially with declining bee populations across the world. The pollination that bees bring are a huge help to farmers, Gatewood said. Bees also provide honey, which can be sold, and local honey helps people with allergies, according to Gatewood.
Ferguson said more and more people are starting to give beekeeping a try, especially in Hancock County. Back in April, he went before the Greenfield City Council with Greenfield resident Angela Hoffa to petition the council to allow beekeeping inside city limits. Currently, the city does not allow the keeping of domestic farm animals, which includes bees, according to the language in the ordinance. Hoffa said she and her husband would like to take up the hobby but don’t want to run afoul of the current law.
Hoffa made the case that with the benefits bees would bring to the entire community, it would make sense for the city to allow them, as long as proper precautions were put in place to make sure the hives had adequate space and were properly cared for. Hoffa even went so far as to give the council a proposed ordinance and examples of ordinances from other Indiana cities that allow beekeeping, like Marion.
The proposal is still working its way through the necessary channels, according to council president Kerry Grass. He said the council is taking its time on this and wants to make sure if they allow beekeeping that they do it right the first time. Hoffa said she expects the issue to be brought back up at the end of June.
by GDR Reporter Zach Osowski