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Lebanon man sweet on bees

Honey Festival chief mentors novice keepers

The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON,OH — Ray Alley has two “honey-do” lists. For the first, he occasionally needs a little prodding from his wife. The second requires no reminders.

For 18 years, Mr. Alley has filled out his own list: Check the hives. Medicate the bees. Pull the honey. And talk to his girls, as he affectionately calls his honeybees.

One of 3,000 registered beekeepers in Ohio, Mr. Alley operates five apiaries — or bee yards — with about eight hives at each. Some are on farms to help farmers with pollination. Mr. Alley also manages an apiary in his back yard, just north of Lebanon.

Mr. Alley, who serves as director of the Ohio Honey Festival and is a member of the Warren County Beekeepers Club, mentors new beekeepers, helping them start hives and teaching the tricks he has learned over the years. This year, a record five new beekeepers have joined the 50 members of the county’s club.

He suspects many people are drawn for the same reason that attracts him: The bees have so many lessons to teach.

He has learned patience and gentleness. The bees have given him an appreciation of nature.

Beekeeping is not Mr. Alley’s only hobby. He cultivates 110 varieties of irises in a front-yard flower bed and fires muzzle-loading black powder weapons.

But at 52 years old, the Delta Air Lines worker has found beekeeping to be the most interesting and challenging.

Mr. Alley sells the honey at the Waynesville Farmer’s Market, but estimates he earns a nickel an hour after expenses. This year, because the drought has wiped out many nectar sources, Mr. Alley expects the beekeeping won’t pay for itself.

His collection of honeybee paraphernalia, stuffed bears and handmade honey pots has crept from a corner of the kitchen into the living room. He’s hoping his wife, Chris, won’t notice.

And he is one of the few homeowners who loves to see dandelions pop up “because then I know the bees will make it through the winter.”

For information about beekeeping, call Ray Alley at (513) 932-8139.

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