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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.16 71 THE SPREAD Oh, Honey! By Mary Chellis Austin / Photos by Chris Witzke The buzz about beekeeping. It's a sunny Sunday afternoon in La Grange when I visit Amber Dale Cann and her husband Adam LaDow at their home, which includes three kids, four dogs and 80,000 honeybees. e couple equips me with a hooded veil and long white gloves. I resem- ble a Star Wars Stormtrooper as I mind- over-matter myself closer to the hive — a waist-high, triple-tiered white box at the back of the one-acre yard. A cluster of buzzing bees surrounds the hive's entrance. Cann removes the top of the hive, revealing 10 wooden frames that the bees have filled with combs and honey. LaDow puffs smoke onto the bees from a small metal can with a bellows attached. is makes the bees think their hive is on fire, so they prepare to evacuate by gorging on their honey stores, which sedates them. "It's like after anksgiving dinner," Cann says. "ey're a little more docile than usual." Using a flat metal tool, LaDow pries apart the frames and lifts one from the box. is is something they'll do every few weeks to make sure the hive appears healthy. "at's beautiful. at's a completely full frame of honey," Cann says. e frame is covered in bees and, though none are headed in the same direction, they all seem to move as though they're one organism, like minnows or gnats. ey're efficient. e muted buzzing intensifies, grows louder, higher-pitched. More pissed. "Calm down, girls," LaDow says. "Back up," Cann tells us. "ese are more feisty than usual." "Whenever we get near their honey, they get really defensive," LaDow says. Cann says the bees' behavior is attribut- able to their Russian genes. Russians and Italians are the two most common hon- eybee types kept in this part of the world. e Italians are known for being more docile, the Russians for being more resilient through the winter. "It's like a whole hive full of Putins," Cann says. Not at all like the Honey Nut Cheerios bee gleefully adding honey to the bowl, as if to say, "Here, humans, have some of the honey that my sisters and I spent our entire lives making." Some honeybee basics: ere are 20,000 bee species; seven or eight of those are honeybees. A hive can start out as a nuc, or nucleus colony — a package of about 10,000 bees you can buy online from one of several local keepers. Each hive has a queen whose job is to lay eggs. e rest of the bees are female workers — who go out and collect nectar and pollen and make combs and honey — and male drones, who fertilize the queen's eggs and are otherwise pretty useless. A worker bee can live about a month; a queen bee can live two years or more. e queen can lay 2,000 eggs a day. After a few seasons, 10,000 bees can become 80,000. Honeybees aren't the only pollinators, but they are responsible for almost a third of our food, so we're pretty reliant on these tireless workers. Cann will tell you all this and more about bees. She's a fourth-generation apiarist who grew up in Grayson County, where her dad still keeps bees. She's also the president of the Kentuckiana Beekeepers Association, a role she plays when she's not teaching phar- macy at Sullivan University. Cann estimates that there are about 1,000 beekeepers in the Louisville area. e Kentuckiana Beekeepers Association has about 100 members that range from dabbling novices with a hive or two to folks tending more than 200 hives. State apiarist Tammy Horn says the average age of a beekeeper is 62. But she says that beekeeping, which humans have practiced for at least a few thousand years, seems to be making up for a generational gap. When she first got the job a few years ago, there were only three entries in the youth division bee categories at the state fair. Last year there were 30 or 40. Horn says that anytime there's an economic downturn, people try to become more self-reliant and grow their own food, which is why she thinks beekeep- ing has become more popular recently. For some of the Louisville beekeepers I talk to, beekeeping is more of a hobby to promote pollinator health. You may have seen the alarming honeybee death rates in the news over the past eight or nine years. Beekeepers were noticing that most of the worker bees would mysteriously abandon a hive, a phenomenon named colony collapse disorder that has been attributed to every- thing from pesticides to cell phone signals to, as with industrial farms, a homogenous diet of only corn or only almonds, for example. Horn says that colony collapse disorder doesn't seem to be as much of a threat in Kentucky and that she hasn't seen a case in her three years on the job. Musician Chris Rodahaffer watched a documentary about colony collapse disorder and continued to learn about and show in- terest in bees, so his wife got him a hive kit for Christmas a couple years ago. He now keeps a hive at his house in St. Matthews. Bristol Bar & Grille general manager Pete Peters hadn't given bees much thought until last year, when Ginger Davidson, a local food producer, suggested he put some hives on the roof of the Bardstown Road location. His only concern was to make sure the bees wouldn't bother customers on the ground patio, which they haven't. Being on the roof, they might go across the alley to some flowering shrubs between houses or fly over to Cherokee Park — honeybees can travel a mile or two away from the hive — to get in on some of that pollinator action. e intelligence of the honeybees surprised Peters. "I'm standing in front of the hives before I really knew what I was doing," he says. "ere were no bees going After a few seasons, 10,000 bees can become 80,000.