Beekeeper’s ‘sweet’ occupation involved first getting over fear of bees
Sunday, October 13, 2019 | 12:01 AM
Vicki Kleber’s uncle tried unsuccessfully for many years to get her interested in beekeeping.
Since she was a gardener, he was convinced that his hobby would be one she would enjoy as well.
“I was very fearful, like about 90% of the population,” said Kleber, 52, of Russelton. “He finally wore me down and talked me into it after many tries. I took it up, started with one hive and loved it so much that one became five, five became 15 and then I left my job and now I do it full-time.”
Kleber is in her seventh year of beekeeping, and she has 60 hives spread out over seven locations. As the owner of Russelton Bee Works, she makes honey as well as some honey-based products including beeswax hand cream and granola bars. She will be at Harvest Valley Farms’ fall festival, in Valencia, on Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 giving bee demonstrations where people can observe a real miniature hive in action behind glass, learn about the queen, the workers and who does what within the hive and ask any questions they may have about the bees’ lifecycle, population and, yes, how many times she gets stung.
With the plight of the bees and the importance of pollinators to the ecosystem getting more attention in recent years, Kleber said, she does field many questions about their health.
“People are very concerned,” she said. “Other than how often I get stung, a lot of people ask about what can we do to help bees.”
Characterizing the health of the bee population in Western Pennsylvania is difficult, she said, because surveys often rely on individuals completing them and if there’s not enough data gathered, the picture will be incomplete.
A big problem for beekeepers, she said, is the presence of a mite that came from Asian honeybees and has wreaked havoc on European honeybee colonies. Kleber has to treat her bees for the mites in midsummer, which coincides with the timing of many of her stings.
“I can go long stretches without being stung, and when the bees are busy and there’s lots of work to do and they’re in a good mood, it’s not a problem. But working with bees midsummer when there’s not a lot out there, they can be grumpy,” she said. “And that’s when I have to treat them for mites, and it’s not the most pleasant smell in the world. They’re not real happy about that, and I don’t blame them.”
Still, it’s worth it to Kleber to create products that become part of the locally raised food supply and she doesn’t regret trading in her office job for her work with the bees.
“I love having my own business and being a part of local farmers markets,” she said. “Producing local food and getting the product to local markets, I really enjoy that.”
For more information on where to find Russelton Bee Works products, visit its Facebook page. Admission to the Harvest Valley Farms fall festival is free. For more information, visit harvestvalleyfarms.com/fall-festival.