In a way, he's the bee's knees in helping to protect insects

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STOCKBRIDGE — With hundreds of bees buzzing around their hives at Berkshire Botanical Garden on Saturday, a sixth-generation beekeeper shared his secrets on how to keep them safe during the fall and winter months.

Ken Warchol of Northbridge has been beekeeping for more than 60 years. For more than 40 years, he has been an apiary inspector and has participated in many studies seeking to determine why the bee population is dying off at high rates.

"Beekeeping doesn't stop," Warchol told a room of about 10 guests. "It's a partnership between you and the bees."

In his lesson, Warchol told the group how to inventory their hives — that should be done by Aug. 31 — evaluate their queen bee, check for mites and other diseases and manage swarms.

Each hive can hold 80,000 bees, and if a virus goes untreated, it can start to infect hives throughout the community.

"We are only as good as the beekeepers around us," he said.

That theory is one reason why, about three years ago, the botanical garden began hosting more regular beekeeping programming and an informal hobbyist group, according to educational director Chris Wellens.

Adams has had a very successful beekeepers group for years, but it was a challenge for those in South County to get there, he said.

When Wellens picked up beekeeping at the garden about three years ago, it was challenging, because there wasn't a community to learn from.

Since the botanical garden three years ago launched its free meetings on the second Tuesday of every month, it has grown from small groups to an occasional gathering of up to 50 people, he said.

In 2007, beekeepers in general started to see an increase in their hive loss from around 20 percent to 50 percent, signaling a rise in what is now known as a "worldwide crisis," according to Warchol.

The publicity of the declining bee populations sparked newcomer hobbyists who wanted to help.

Those beekeepers then spread the hobby to friends, who became intrigued with the bees and their culture.

While it's great that hobbyists are doing what they can on a community level, if the overall cause of the dwindling bee population isn't determined soon, Warchol fears that a day will come when people no longer will even be able to find the supplies to start their own hives.

With ease, and no gear, Warchol examined the garden's two hives, which he determined were healthy.

Bees swarmed around his head, and some crawled up his arms and shirt. He walked away without being stung once.

Warchol was 8 years old when his dad told him he couldn't wear a protective veil anymore, in an effort to teach him to be gentle around the hives.

"If you respect them, they'll respect you," he said.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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