Beehives provide environmental education opportunity at Westmoreland Cleanways site


A handful of Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling employees are busy sorting and stacking unwanted items that customers bring in for reprocessing elsewhere into new products.

Invisible behind a screen of vegetation, a much greater force is also at work – turning nectar into honey.

Five hives, each containing tens of thousands of bees, have made their home in an apiary at the rear of the 8-acre site at Unity under the care of beekeeper Nancy Thorne.

“They are doing pretty well,” said Thorne, of Hempfield, who created the beehives as part of his requirements to become a Penn State master naturalist. “We hope to get them through the winter, so we can have educational programs and talk more about bees and pollinators next spring. “

The beehives are surrounded by groves of trees and wildflowers which are good sources of the pollen and nectar that bees need to thrive.

“A few weeks ago, the whole goldenrod was in bloom,” Thorne noted.

Now, with the temperatures and leaves dropping, the bees move from gathering food to winter concentrating in the hive, when the tight formation of their moving bodies keeps them and their queen warm.

The apiary project was sparked by Westmoreland Cleanways’ need to remove some bee colonies from a vacant building it plans to turn into offices. Thorne coaxed part of the building in boxes in bunches pre-loaded with honeycomb. She also used a modified shop vacuum to transfer them to the apiary.

“It took a while, but it was a rewarding part of the project,” Thorne said.

Thorne installed an electrified solar-powered fence around the beehives to prevent bears from feasting on honey from bees or their developing young.

A local teenager, working on his Eagle Scout project, organized resources and a team of around 30 volunteers to improve access to the apiary.

Connor Pflugh, 17, a senior at Greater Latrobe Senior High, gathered help from family, friends and fellow Boy Scout Troop 405 members in South Greensburg as he used stone aggregates to create a path leading to the apiary.

“I wanted to make it look pretty, so they could turn it into a learning center and make it accessible,” said Pflugh, from Unity. “There was a ditch that had to be crossed.”

He relied on resources from Penn State and the nonprofit American Trails and advice from the local Country Farms garden center and landscaping department to plan the trail. He modified a US Forest Service design for a small walkway over the ditch.

His team also laid a gravel surface inside the apiary enclosure so Thorne wouldn’t have to mow around the beehives.

It was a learning experience that was rewarding for Pflugh.

“It’s a lot of skill involved, time management and how to organize and work with people to do something,” he said. “It helps the environment, and it was just a good project for the community to do. This will have a lasting effect.

Working on a budget of around $ 1,100, Pflugh raised money by selling firewood. He also received donations of certain materials.

Westmoreland Cleanways secured two grants of $ 500 each from Keep PA Beautiful and the Earth Volunteer Fund, to help cover the cost of supplies for the project.

Thorne has been raising bees for about eight years. She was exposed to further farming by her daughter’s boyfriend at the time and received her first beehive as a gift.

Now an Edge of the Wood Apiaries operator, she looks after 40 beehives at sites in the Townships of Hempfield, Salem and Ligonier and on the Westmoreland Cleanways property.

Although she has experienced good survival rates among her bees, she noted that beekeepers need to keep a constant guard against mite infestations in their hives. Habitat loss and harmful chemicals in the environment have also become a threat to bees.

“Most homeowners can do a few things to help all pollinators: reduce their use of pesticides, plant plants (which are compatible with pollinators) in their yards and gardens, and try to stick with native plants and flowers. this region, ”she said. .

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