ALTOONA, Pa. (AP) — Amber Lewis refers to herself as “a crazy bee lady,” but fellow beekeepers in the region praise her for her public education efforts, unquenched curiosity and community service.
“She’s a top-notch beekeeper,” said Bernie Svidergol of Ebensburg, who served as president of the 2 Cs and a Bee Beekeepers’ Association, which serves Cambria, Clearfield and Blair counties and includes 300 members from 16 counties, West Virginia and Ohio.
That’s high praise from Svidergol, a third-generation beekeeper and owner of Yellow Bear Apiary.
“She’s such a hard worker, very intelligent and articulate,” he said. “I am most proud of her, and her attitude about everything is all positive. That’s why we hooked up so good.”
Fellow member, beekeeper and retired teacher Regis Nale of Hollidaysburg agreed with Svidergol and said Lewis is comparable to a student who rises to become class valedictorian through dedicated studies.
Until this past fall, Lewis served as the association’s vice president for six years and is a highly desired speaker throughout the region because her enthusiasm is infectious.
Lewis is still active in the association, but took a break from being an officer to spend more time with her children and help with their interests.
Lewis became interested in honeybees after attending Ag Progress Days in 2010. She then started attending 2 Cs and a Bee monthly meetings and acquiring the necessary gear and equipment, but then hesitated at acquiring a colony.
“It’s very intimidating at first,” she said. “You are going to stick your hand into a box loaded with stinging creatures and I didn’t want to go into it all willy-nilly,” Lewis said. Then she received a phone call from Nale in August 2011 — he was five minutes away and had a swarm for her.
“I was so excited,” she recalled. “He told me to enjoy them and get to practice with them. He said, ‘Here you go. If they live, they live. Get into them and have fun.'”
August didn’t leave much time for the colony to stock up on reserves to get it through the winter weather, so the first colony didn’t survive. But when spring came, Lewis’ hesitation was gone and she now has 10 colonies of bees at two locations.
“She has taken off with it. It’s all she talks about,” Nale said.
He gave her some books over that winter. “There are more books written about bees than any other species except for man. You can study bees all you want and you could never read all that’s written about bees,” Nale said. “She just digested those books and was off and running full tilt ever since. She has the ability to take what she reads and practice it. She’s been instrumental in a beekeeping demonstration project at Canoe Creek State Park. She is a great speaker and so enthusiastic.”
Cathy Ketner of Hollidaysburg said her family contacted Lewis recently when a swarm of bees settled on a branch overlooking their yard.
“My husband (Jeff) and son (Brad) were in the backyard when they heard this buzzing noise and saw this swarm coming across from our neighbors. It was like this tornado of bees,” she said. “After flying around for about 15 minutes, they went onto a branch high up in the tree and became this ball of bees. It was the most fascinating thing we’ve ever seen.”
Lewis, who attended high school with Ketner’s son, came and left a bee box, but when the bees remained for several days and a freeze warning was issued May 8, Lewis said she knew she had to act or the bees would die. Lewis estimated the honey bees numbered about 5,000 and had settled about 30-feet up in a Catalpa tree, so she had to improvise, with assistance from Nale.
Cathy Ketner praised Lewis.
“She is very knowledgeable and I was very impressed. She taught us so much about bees and how intelligent they are. It was a great experience,” Cathy Ketner said.
Typically, honeybees start to swarm or look for a new home around Mother’s Day, but Lewis said the bees began swarming two to three weeks earlier this year. The best thing to do is to leave the bees alone.
“Don’t swing at them or spray them with water or chemicals. They usually find a home within a few hours,” Lewis said. “A swarm sounds like a freight train — a low, vibrating, buzzing cloud — but really this is the time when they are most docile because they don’t have anything to protect — no home, no food, no babies. For most people, it is the most frightening thing they’ve ever seen, but to a beekeeper, it’s the most exciting thing,” Lewis said.
Lewis said many times bystanders are often surprised when she doesn’t wear a protective veil when capturing a swarm for relocation because the risk of getting stung is low and she no longer gets much of a physical reaction.
“The bee’s brain is about the size of a printed period, but they are so intelligent. (That’s why) I became fascinated with them and how their society works. Some people call me crazy, but I call it my passion. They look at me and think, ‘she’s not wired right,'” she said. “But I enjoy it because of all I’ve learned about them.”
Information from: Altoona Mirror, http://www.altoonamirror.com