Ohio has 300 varieties of honey and Barry Conrad sells Ohio Wildflower and Buckwheat honey.

A queen bee in the hive.

After I ran out of my bottle of Tupelo Honey, I purchased a bottle of Barry's Bees honey to put in my tea last year at Celebrate Local. Then, this past spring I went to a farm breakfast which had Barry's Bees honey to use on biscuits. After eating breakfast, I walked around the farm and ran into Barry Conrad, the man behind Barry's Bees honey, and briefly spoke to him about his honeybees and his hobby.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to head out to Conrad Hive and Honey in Canal Winchester to learn about the Conrads' beekeeping operation during a video shoot and interview. Barry Conrad keeps about 75 hives on his property. He and his wife, Carmen, use the hives and others they have situated in neighboring counties (usually by people who have large gardens) to produce honey and beeswax candles. Barry, who is also president of the Central Ohio Beekeepers' Association (COBA), took us on a tour of his property and showed us how they make the honey and beeswax candles. In addition to the honey and beeswax candles, Conrad also sells beekeeping supplies at the Canal Winchester farm in the Honey Cottage. The Conrads have won numerous local and national awards for their honey products, my favorite of which is creamed honey. Creamed honey is made by finely controlling the crystallization of the honey and it's extra sweet.

The most interesting thing I learned during the visit was the dynamics of the hives. A queen bee has the primary task of laying eggs. Female bees are the worker bees and they carry pollen on their back legs (see the photo below) and it's taken off by another female worker bee and deposited in the honeycomb. Male bees, called drones, of which there are usually only a few in each hive, do not sting and do nothing other than mate with the queen. Another interesting thing I learned was why beekeepers use smoke when going to a hive. They want to mask the pheromone smell that the bees put off when they get excited. Bees are usually calm and the smoke helps keep them that way while the hives are being moved around.

In addition to the hive dynamics I also learned about propolis, a substance the bees add to the hives to seal them. According to Barry, propolis is used in a variety of beauty creams and beauty products. Another bee-related product, bee pollen, is used by people to combat allergies and by athletes since it has a high protein content, usually around 30%.

Of course, I hope it's not news to you that honeybee populations are on the decline. Barry said his honeybee decline last year was 50% after the winter and it's historically been around 10% on average. That's a scary thought. It's not just a problem in America either. I read about a program where people in Belgium are being encouraged to grow natural lawns (no pesticides or fertilizers!) and to not mow as often to allow wild plants that the bees love, such as clover, to flourish during the 2012 EcoSummit.

Although many people don't care, they should. Why? Because as Barry pointed out during my visit, a third of our diet depends on the honeybee population. The honeybees pollinate our plants and allow them to bear fruit/vegetables. Another startling fact is that honeybees, which pollinate plants, only get one day to do so because the flower/bloom of most plants is only open for one day. And, it's not just the bees that are suffering. There is a decline in butterflies and other insects as well.

Barry's Bees products can be found at the Honey Cottage at Conrad Hive and Honey, 6240 Wright Road; the Clintonville Farmers Market; and Celebrate Local at Easton.

However, it's encouraging to know that the central Ohio beekeepers association has 500 members, and, according to Barry, added 150 new members last year. The group meets most Wednesdays and will be hosting beginning beekeeping classes in February. To learn more about Conrad Hive and Honey, visit http://www.hiveandhoney.com/ and the Central Ohio Beekeepers Association (COBA) http://www.centralohiobeekeepers.org/. The next COBA meeting is scheduled for Sept. 19 at Dawes Arboretum in Newark.

Pollen on the back legs of a female worker bee.