Downtown Salem is buzzing. Thanks to two men with a major beekeeping hobby, Salem City Hall has about 15,000 tiny new neighbors on its lawn. The beehive placement comes right on the heels of several national campaigns to save honeybees, and according to horticulturist Laura Reilly, will have great benefits locally as well.
Jeremy Hartman and Randy Asberry, both members of the Moonshine Beekeeper’s Association in Franklin County, approached Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess about placing a hive in the city. Hartman donated the bees and Asberry built the wooden hive. They were officially placed at their new home on Friday, May 27.
Reilly works with the Salem Fresh Ideas Garden, located directly across the street on land donated by Salem Presbyterian Church, one of the reasons city hall was chosen. Last year, the garden generated around 2,000 pounds of fresh produce, all of which is donated to the Salem Food Pantry. With the garden in its second season, Reilly said she expects this year’s results to be even better, and is excited about the role the bees will play in pollinating.
“A lot of municipalities and cities across the country are pushing to save the pollinators and setting up bees and beehives near their community gardens,” Reilly said. “It was a good fit for us, and we had the spot to do it.”
Bees across the country are suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder, which for the most part, has baffled beekeepers. However, it is widely believed that pesticides are to blame for at least part of the problem. The community garden prides itself on being pesticide free. However, Reilly said she doesn’t believe the problem is caused by everyday weed killers such as Roundup, but by widespread commercial spraying of produce.
For the most part, honeybees are self-sufficient, and besides occasionally checking on the hive to make sure it is disease-free, Hartman said it can usually be left alone. The bees aren’t expected to produce honey for at least a year, and what they do produce will be used by the hive to make it through the winter.
According to Asberry, the benefit of having bees far surpasses honey production, because bees are responsible for pollinating nearly all fresh produce.
“We’re really after the bees more than the honey,” Asberry said. “If we could leave every bit of the honey in there for the bees to eat on, then we don’t have to feed sugar water to them as much.”
However, if the bees do produce a large amount of honey in the future, he said said any proceeds would be donated to the Salem Food Pantry along with the garden’s produce.
“There could be a day that we’re selling Salem honey, local honey, here to help feed the needy at the local food pantry,” Asberry said.
Reilly, Asberry and Hartman agree that one of the major benefits of having bees in the city is the newfound ability to educate the public, and are hoping to tie in a lesson at the city’s new “Learning on the Lawn” program on Saturday mornings sometime in the fall. Hartman said people have a natural tendency to fear bees, but for the most part, unless protecting their hive, honeybees are very gentle.
“If you leave them alone, they’re not going to hurt you,” Harman said. “They have one mission on their mind, and that is to collect pollen and nectar for the fall.”