That bees can fly at all is something of a mystery. From an aerodynamic standpoint, they simply shouldn't.

That bees can fly at all is something of a mystery. From an aerodynamic standpoint, they simply shouldn't.

That bees should abruptly begin flying away from their hives, never to return, is an enigma. The phenomenon, first noted in October 2006 and termed "colony collapse disorder," has drawn the interest and concern of not merely beekeepers but also farmers, the media and the federal government.

And 11-year-old Karissa Smith of Pleasant Township.

"I was surprised how all of the bees just suddenly disappeared," Karissa said last week.

"It interested her because she's scientific," said mom Denise Smith.

"How things work," was how Karissa put it. "I ask a lot of questions."

She also did a lot of research on bees and beekeeping, which eventually led the Hayes Intermediate School student to become what she's pretty certain is the youngest member ever of the Central Ohio Beekeeping Association.

The nonprofit organization was formed in 1975 "to promote and further the interests and well-being of apiculture and related industries," according to the Web site. "Our club seeks to bring together all persons interested in beekeeping to share ideas and experiences as well as to promote and educate others about this very important part of agriculture."

Cheryl Wachsmuth of Grove City is the current president of COBA.

Along with Karissa's library research, Denise Smith said that her daughter learned from family friend Bruce Mortland, a Columbus City Schools teacher, that beekeeping isn't all that difficult.

"You just check on them," Karissa said.

But before that "just checking" can begin, some education is required. Karissa underwent the COBA training offered through the Ohio State University Extension office. Each member of the class received a copy of "Beekeeping for Dummies," but Karissa's no dummy, according to her mom.

She's in the gifted class at school and while COBA officers generally insist members be at least 13, Debbie and her husband Kirk Smith managed to convince them Karissa was mature beyond her years.

After the class was completed, some members of COBA approached the Franklin County commissioners for help in the face of not only colony collapse but other difficulties that have beset beekeeping.

The commissioners voted on April 22 to spend $7,500 to supply hobbyists with hive homes and protective gear.

Karissa was the first of 15 recipients of $500 economic development grants. She doesn't often use the pith helmet and veil to ward off stings.

So far, only dad has been stung.

"I guess we're pretty docile, just like the bees," Denise Smith said.

"They just do their thing," Karissa offered.

Colony collapse and other problems within the bee world have widespread and worrisome implications.

"Bee pollination is responsible for $15-billion in added crop value, particularly for specialty crops such as almonds and other nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables," according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. "About one mouthful in three in the diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination."

The Smiths now have five hives on their property, two belonging to Karissa, one to Mortland and two owned by dad Kirk and some friends. One hive died off. That wasn't colony collapse but the late winter blizzard. From that one they extracted some honey.

"It's good honey," Karissa said.

She plans to stick with beekeeping now that she's gotten started.

"It's pretty easy to do and there are pretty big rewards with it," Karissa said.

"Whatever she's interested in is fine with me," Denise Smith said.