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Buzzworthy beginnings for the bee hives at the Cincinnati Zoo

 Zoo staff and volunteers take care of the bees on Bowyer Farm.

On the zoo's farm, honeybees are responsible for pollinating one-third of the crops.

 The zoo's goal is to have honey available in its gift shop this fall.


Tucked away in Warren County is one of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s top conservation projects: bee hives. And according to Melanie Evans, one of the founders of the zoo’s Pollen Nation, the honey could become a source of homegrown revenue in the future. 

Established as a contribution to the area’s population, the bee apiary can be found on the zoo's 650-acre Bowyer Farm in Turtlecreek Township. Along with the beekeeping exhibit at the zoo, there are about 24 bee hives that hold over one million honeybees. The farm is owned and run by zoo staff and volunteers, but what makes the site so unique is the environment in which the bees exist.

“We chose to have our full-sized apiary on our farm since we had the pollen support for them to feed from," Evans says. "It would also be beneficial to the native wetland farming projects we have going on out there to receive the pollination services. The two on the zoo grounds are primarily there for exhibition and educational purposes.”

In addition to boosting the honeybee population, the farm uses the bees for pollination for one-third of its crops. In utilizing this natural system with the crops ranging from berries to zucchini, the use of harmful pesticides and the presence of parasites is greatly reduced.

More than 100 acres of the property are farmed organically. As news of the zoo's beekeeping spreads across the region and beyond, it has sparked an interest in backyard beekeeping and promoting an increase in the bee population. By planting more wildflowers and refraining from harmful pesticide use, individuals can impact bee conservation over time.

With the expectation of a large winter turnout and high survival rate, members of Pollen Nation expect that the honey will be for sale in the zoo’s gift shop sometime next fall. Once the colonies get going, hundreds of pounds of honey could be harvested. For now, Evans, along with VP of zoo facilities, planning and sustainability Mark Fisher, say that the few pounds of honey produced in 2016 were distributed to the beekeepers and a small handful of donors.

"Bee" on the lookout for more news about the Cincinnati Zoo’s honeybee conservation project later in 2017!
 

Read more articles by Erin Pierce.

Erin Pierce is a contributing writer for Soapbox, and a recent graduate of Northern Kentucky University.
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