MANHATTAN, Kan. – Richard Marteney loves to talk about the buzz he is stirring around the community. Everywhere he goes, he tries to convince families to adopt new backyard pets – about 5,000 new pets.
Marteney is a beekeeper and for 28 years, this retired lab technician has helped educate people about the importance of bees. This year, the self proclaimed “Bee Man” has signed up 18 new backyard beekeepers.
“It’s a real joy for me to help start people keeping bees,” Marteney said. “I enjoy walking people through their bee problems, and I learn because of it.”
Marteney is gearing up to receive a shipment of 60,000 bees – in 5,000 bee packs, each with their own queen. He’ll then distribute the bees, along with his bee knowledge, to the new keepers at his rural Wamego farm in April. Marteney says he’ll hold monthly meetings at his home to help people with their bee problems.
“I open hives and let people ask bee questions and I answer them,” Marteney explained. “There are so many people who have questions and we learn together.”
Madonna Stallmann, a paraeducator from from Leonardville Kan., is one of Marteney’s pupils. Last year, Marteney helped her start her hive.
“I love my bees,” Stallmann said. “They give me a sense of tranquility and the bees make me focused and attentive.”
Both Stallmann and Marteney stress the importance of bees to food supplies in the U.S.
“Bee keeping is important to the U.S. and the world,” Marteney said. “One-third of every bite of food we take is dependent on bees pollinating something, somewhere, somehow.”
Marteney said he sees an obvious difference in the fullness and production of his fruit trees and flower beds on his property. Stallmann said she planted a native flower garden exclusively for her bees. The bee hive for her is very comforting.
“It is scary when we don’t have bees around,” Stallmann said. “There is something wrong when you have a full garden of flowers and no bees.
In addition to pollinating, bees also produce honey. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kansas beekeepers kept 11,977 colonies of bees in 2007. Kansas also harvested 409,242 pounds of honey, approximately the weight of 29 school buses. The U.S. kept almost 3 million colonies of bees and produced 152,057,812 pounds of honey in 2007.
Marteney said that people generally have no reason to be afraid of bees. He said most bees are completely harmless and a part of a natural ecosystem.
Swarms of bees in trees are generally non-aggressive. According to Marteney, swarms are a natural progression that bees take when they outgrow their hive. Each hive contains only one queen. When a new queen is ready to hatch, the old queen moves out of the hive and takes half of the bees with her, creating a swarm. The Swarm flies around until a new home is found. When a person comes across a swarm, Marteney suggests to stay calm and call a beekeeper.
“The joy for me is to help educate and inform people about bees,” Marteney said. He benefits by collecting bees when a backyard hive swarms. He then relocates the swarm to one of his many hives between placed in the NE Kansas area.
Backyard beehives are not a new phenomenon or a trend started by Marteney. According to Marteney, most family farms historically had a beehive. “When the family farm died, so did the family beehive,” Marteney says. “The solution now is a backyard hive – the bees are not a risk or a problem.”
Marteney says that anyone can start a hive for about $285. The equipment costs about $200 and the bee kit containing 5,000 bees costs $85. He said there are many clubs and organizations that can help educate and maintain the beehives. Kansas State Research and Extension Service is a great resource for information on keeping bees. Beekeepers like Marteney and Stallmann are also a source of bee knowledge.
“Bee keeping is an art,” Marteney says. “You learn by doing and you do as you learn. We all help each other.”