It’s one honey of a hobby

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Dr. Colleen Opremcak and Dr. Craig Pratt guide honeybees into their new home behind the Madison Garden Center. The West Jefferson residents have made it their mission to help with conservation efforts for these vital pollinators.

(Posted May 17, 2017)

By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer

It sounds like the start of a joke: Two psychiatrists were carefully travelling on the highway with thousands of honeybees in the bed of their truck. But it was no laughing matter for the pair.

Ok, there was some teasing going on.

“He was acting like a new father taking his child home,” said Dr. Colleen Opremcak of Dr. Craig Pratt, her partner of 20 years and the cautious driver of the honeybee-laden vehicle.

“Oh, she’s been saying I have been behaving like an expectant father for the past two days now,” he rebutted. “She’s right, of course.”

In a further defense, Pratt said she has been acting the same way.

“We’ve both been nervous and excited for this day,” he explained.

If someone had told the couple six months ago they would be transporting honeybees to Madison County in order to make a new home for the vital pollinators, they would have been intrigued but slow to believe it. Now, it is something they could see becoming a semi-regular occurrence.

The idea took root last October while Opremcak and Pratt were attending a “Food as Medicine” conference through the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in California. In between learning about the latest developments in nutrition and the role it plays in preventing and/or managing diseases, they struck up a friendship with Jamie Simpson, a renowned chef at the Culinary Vegetable Institute.

Pratt gives a big cheer, and perhaps as sigh of relief, as the last of the honeybees are successfully placed into a hive.

During one of their conversations, Simpson offered the Ohio couple a tour of a nearby field where honeybees roamed freely and in large numbers in order to pollinate the crops.

“As I was listening to him talk about the hives and the important role bees have in our world, I thought, ‘I think we can do this, too,’” Pratt said, referring to Simpson’s beekeeping hobby.

It didn’t take long for Opremcak to get on board with the idea.

“We both like honey, we’re both environmentally conscious, and we’re both concerned about the declining bee population,” she said. “We just thought it would be cool to try to do it ourselves and make a contribution to the good of nature.”

Shortly after deciding to become new beekeepers, Opremcak and Pratt did what they do best—research.

“I was living on YouTube,” Pratt said.

After further investigation, they decided it was time to order supplies and make a home for a honeybee hive in the backyard of their West Jefferson home. They soon discovered their place wouldn’t work.

“One of our neighbor’s sons is on the (village) council, and he told us they would be spraying this summer for mosquitoes,” said Opremcak.

Though the scientific link between spraying and the declining bee population is still being debated, they decided it was better to be safe than sorry.

A new location for the bees popped up a few months ago as Pratt was shopping at Madison Garden Center on the east side of West Jefferson. He started talking to owner Dave Spegal about their beekeeping efforts when Spegal offered them space behind the store.

“I thought it sounded like a great idea,” Pratt said.

Spegal cleared space near the treeline and mulched the area.

On May 13, Pratt and Opremcak drove to Conrad Hive & Honey in Canal Winchester to collect the bees, then began the tense process of transferring the bees on the frames to the five Langstroth-style hives Pratt arranged the day before.

Upon completing the first transfer, Pratt was gently scolded by Matt Dunham, a hobby beekeeper and employee at Deer Creek Honey Farm in London, when he tried to put the second transfer into the empty Langstroth-style hive the furthest away.

“I’m just trying to give them space and time to adjust,” Pratt said, pointing to the bees from the first transfer who were buzzing about.

Dunham said it wasn’t necessary.

“First-time beekeepers can be really fussy,” he joked.

Eventually, Pratt and Opremcak completed the homing mission. And to top off the day, Spegal placed a barrel of water in the area just in case the bees had trouble finding the nearby spring during their relocation disorientation.

Pratt said he is thankful for the help and support he and Opremcak received from the community in their effort to become beekeepers. He even invited the public to come out and observe this dynamic and vital species.

“We can learn a lot from them,” he said as he watched his new “children” settle into their new homes.


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