How to participate:
All workshops are free and open to the public. To register, go to kansasruralcenter.org/pollinators or call 764-3481
Becky and Steve Tipton, owners of Country Creek Honey near Meriden, are self-taught beekeepers. The few hives they started with in the late 1980s have grown to more than 100, each comprising 60,000 to 80,000 honeybees — a total of around 8 million.
Now, as master beekeepers and leaders of the Kansas Honey Producers’ Association, the Tiptons teach introductory classes on beekeeping with the hope that others will pick up on the hobby they’ve enjoyed for more than 25 years.
This prerogative has become more of a priority in the past several years, Becky said, because of the recent outbreak of Colony Collapse Disorder, the sudden and widespread disappearance of adult honeybees from hives.
“Bees are marvelous creatures, the heart of our global existence,” said Becky Tipton, who also acts as program chair of the Northeastern Kansas Beekeepers’ Association.
The Tiptons will give a lesson at an introductory beekeeping workshop on Feb. 25 at the Lawrence Visitors Center, 402 N. Second St. The workshop is the first in a three-part series hosted by the Kansas Rural Center.
In December, the Kansas Rural Center received a $10,000 grant from the Douglas County Community Foundation to train beekeepers, increase the amount and quality of habitat for bees and increase access to locally produced honey.
During this first workshop, attendees may apply to receive a free beginning beekeeper kit, which includes wooden frames, beeswax, a hive tool, smoker, veil, gloves and about 10,000 bees. The six people chosen to receive the kit will be trained, and each will be paired with an experienced mentor.
“We want to introduce people to beekeeping and connect them to local beekeeping resources at this first workshop,” said Joanna Voigt, project coordinator for the Kansas Rural Center. “We want to help forge a beekeeping community and support group here.”
Becky Tipton said that these new beekeepers could be the saving grace of honeybees, which have faced decline because of factors including habitat loss and pesticide use.
According to a joint study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency, bee colonies have been dying at a rate of about 30 percent per year for the past several years. This is a phenomena that could have harsh effects, Tipton said, because of the role bees play in the environment.
Pollinators, such as bees, flies, birds and butterflies, help plants reproduce by moving pollen from the male flower parts to the female.
“We really strongly believe that the bee will be saved, not by the commercial beekeepers, but by backyard beekeepers, by people who have two, three or five hives,” Tipton said. “It will be a grassroots effort to save the honeybee. These people we’ll be talking to, I’m going to tell them, ‘You guys are it. You’re the ones who are going to make a difference, who are going to save the honeybee.’”
Another factor in saving the bees is establishing a habitat of native plants and flowers in which they can thrive. This will be the focus of the second workshop hosted by the Kansas Rural Center sometime this spring.
The last workshop in the series will be an introductory course on marketing and selling honey and other hive products locally.
“At the end of the series, we hope to have helped some new beekeepers, gotten people more aware of pollinator habitats in rural and urban areas, and showed beekeepers how to get their products out there,” Voigt said.