Post offices abuzz with Ohio bee activity

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MOUNT VERNON, Ohio (AP) -- It's the season that has Ohio post offices buzzing with activity as amateur beekeepers await the annual delivery of the honey-producing insects.

Bee-supply companies, including Simpson's Bee Supply in Danville in central Ohio, mail thousands of bees each year to the insects' keepers, known as apiarists.

Carlton Simpson, the supply store's owner, tells the Columbus Dispatch for a story Sunday (http://bit.ly/HIWX3V) that unseasonably warm weather meant more bees survived the winter than in years past.

Simpson also has more business thanks to increased interest in home beekeeping tied to greater awareness about the decline of honeybee populations, and because of a renewed emphasis on locally grown food.

Franklin County had 906 bee colonies by the end of last year, more than either Cuyahoga or Hamilton counties.

"People are looking to be a little more self-sufficient," Simpson said, adding that his family has struggled to keep up with demand.

Local beekeeping clubs have noted a surge of interest in beekeeping in the wake of reports about colony collapse disorder, an ailment that causes bee colonies to abandon their hives.

When the Central Ohio Bee Keepers Club opened registration for its beginning-beekeepers class in 2009, interest was so great that the group held two classes instead of the usual one, said Carmen Conrad, who with her husband, Bob, owns Conrad's Hive and Honey in Canal Winchester in suburban Columbus.

This spring, for the first time, the club will hold three classes to handle the nearly 150 people who signed up.

The number of colonies in Franklin County has grown by about 100 in the past five years, said Barbara Bloetscher, state apiarist with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. She attributes the increase to an active beekeeping community and clubs that teach first-time beekeepers how to get started.

Cindy O'Brien, the Mount Vernon postmaster, said her employees are used to the Simpsons' annual shipments. But there have also been a few nervous moments over the years because of postal clerks allergic to bee stings.

O'Brien said the office now coordinates delivery of bees on a back loading dock, both to speed shipping and keep other customers from being alarmed by buzzing boxes in the lobby.

"It certainly was interesting when we had to take 'em up at the front counter," O'Brien said.

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com