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A Sweet Hobby Shared With One Grandfather And 100,000 Flying Friends



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A Sweet Hobby Shared With One Grandfather And 100,000 Flying Friends

By Nancy K. Crevier

To say that Ryan Marron has one of the sweetest relationships in town with his grandfather would not be stretching the truth. The 10-year-old fourth grade student at Sandy Hook School shares the hobby of beekeeping with his grandfather, Dick Marron. It has grown into his own business, Skidmore HoneyBees. Last summer, he collected 43 pounds of honey from his bees, and then another 24 pounds in the fall.

Ryan began helping his grandfather tend to the 15-plus hives that Mr Marron keeps at Cherry Grove Farm on Palestine Road three years ago. “I enjoyed helping my grandpa,” said Ryan. “It was interesting learning about the bees.”

Bees’ lives involve a lot of fascinating habits, he said, including fanning, which is when bees fan their wings to either cool down or heat up the hive. “They show each other where to find nectar, too, by dancing on the landing pad of the hive,” said Ryan, “and the bees are like a family: they take care of each other.” The bees feed each other and groom each other and nurse the bee larvae with royal jelly, said Ryan. Watching the flight patterns the bees take as they leave the hives is also an interesting pastime for the young apiary fan.

“After a certain age, you have to have something to interest them, when you have grandchildren,” Mr Marron said. Beekeeping has forged a special bond between himself and his grandson. “It’s a good way to spend time together.”

When Ryan showed a real interest in beekeeping, Mr Marron bought him a bee suit and began to teach him about the care of bees and the hives. Ryan has assisted him when he presents workshops for the Backyard Beekeepers Association and spends two to three hours each week with Mr Marron, checking the hives at Cherry Grove, extracting honey, bottling honey, building hives and frames, and painting the hives. He also devotes time to caring for his own two hives.

In 2007, Ryan got his first of the two hives he keeps on the family’s property on Skidmore Lane in Sandy Hook. When he realized that his nearly 100,000 bees were producing far more honey than his family or friends could use, Ryan set up a booth at the Sandy Hook Farmers’ Market on Glen Road every Sunday, and sold the honey under his own label, “Skidmore HoneyBees.” It was a great experience, he said, and he made enough money to buy the kit for his second hive and the bees to colonize it.

Mr Marron recommended the Italian bees for his grandson. “They’re easiest to get, they’re big honey producers, and they are very gentle bees,” Mr Marron explained.

Ryan’s parents, Karen and Steve Marron, and little sister, Ashley, prefer to remain in the background from Ryan’s hobby, said his mother. “I’m amazed when I watch him take the honey from the hives,” said Mrs Marron. “You have to be calm and slow, and he is so patient.”

A little too slow and patient, in his father’s opinion, said Ryan, referring to an incident in which he enlisted the help of Mr Marron to do the one beekeeping job that challenges him: lifting a full super.

Like an apartment house with several floors, each of Ryan’s hives is made up of a box that serves as a “ground floor” with more shallow boxes, like another floor of an apartment building, stacked one on top of the other. The supers hold narrow frames of honeycomb in which the bees produce honey. In a good season, the amount of honey in each super can make the box so heavy that he cannot move it off to retrieve the honey, without help.

As Mr Marron waited for Ryan to finish removing the frames of honey, a process that took longer than he anticipated and that involved much closer contact with the bees than he cared for, he realized his folly in wearing shorts. “I was going kind of slow, I guess,” admitted Ryan, “and my dad ended up getting stung a bunch of times. I’ve suggested to Dad that he might want to get a bee suit.”

The bees also created quite a buzz for the family one hot summer day last year when Ryan’s bees discovered some sticky frames that had been forgotten in the yard after he and his grandfather had taken them out for extracting honey. “There’s always a dearth of honey in August,” said Ryan’s grandfather. “So the bees tend to hang around and get into trouble, robbing other weak hives, that sort of thing.” Ryan’s restless bees found the frames, then carried the honey off into the family’s garage, thinking that frames formerly stored there were still in the garage. “Bees don’t forget,” said Mr Marron. “They knew that the frames had been there once, so they were checking it out.”

For several days, the family endured bees darting about them every time they got in and out of the cars, until eventually the bees settled down and went back to the hives.

“It was a nuisance,” said Mrs Marron, but the family continues to support Ryan’s efforts.

Along with earning money from his hobby, Ryan said that he also enjoys sharing what he knows about bees with others. So much so, in fact, that on Friday, May 16, Ryan and his grandfather presented a workshop to his class, Ms Eleoff’s fourth grade, and to his sister’s first grade class, Ms Holmes’ students. Not only that, what Ryan and his grandfather know about beekeeping will be spread far and wide, as the video production class from Newtown High School was on hand to film the workshop.

“I met a woman at the Farmers’ Market last summer and she told me she was the video teacher at Newtown High School. She was interested in filming me and my bees,” said Ryan.

He did not hear from the teacher until three months ago, said Ryan’s mother, when Maryann Snieckus, the video tech teacher, contacted Ryan again. “It was just out of the blue. Then it took us a little while to coordinate it with the schools and the high school kids’ schedules,” said Mrs Marron.

Friday afternoon, students from Ms Eleoff’s fourth grade classroom and Ms Holmes’ first grade classroom swarmed about the observation hive displayed in the classroom following a talk given by Ryan and his grandfather. Filming the whole process were four students from the NHS Video II class taught by Ms Snieckus. “The kids will film Ryan and Mr Marron later at home with his hives,” explained Ms Snieckus, and then a one-minute edited version will be submitted to Fox 61 News, in hopes that it will be aired. “They have submitted three DVDs to Fox this year, and the goal of the class is to get one of them broadcast,” said Ms Snieckus. “The Bee Boy” will be shown at some point on the high school’s internal television channel, NTV, she added, and may be aired on the public access channel.

For half and hour, Ryan and Mr Marron discussed the life cycle of bees, what jobs the insects have, the importance of bees in the environment, the different types of bees, and about the connection Ryan shares with his grandfather. They fielded questions that ranged from the scientific “How much honey do bees make in a year?” (It depends on the season and the type of bees. Each bee makes 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its six-month lifespan.) to the whimsical question from a first grader, “Which bees are the fuzziest?” ( Bumblebees and honeybees. Being fuzzy makes them good pollinators, as the pollen sticks to them well.)

Not all bees are mean, the students heard from Mr Marron. “Most are very placid, and the only time they will sting is if you bother their home. If you rile them up, they will sting,” he said, and Ryan agreed that disturbing the hives is a good way to get stung, something he has come to expect each time he removes frames of honey.

Only one in a million people is allergic to bees in a serious way, said Mr Marron, but everybody gets a mild reaction of swelling and redness at the site of the sting, and that can hurt. “If you swat at a bee, it will sting,” he said. He suggested to move quietly away from a bee or to brush it off very gently if it lands on clothing or skin. A beekeeper learns how to handle his or her own bees, and reduces the chances of being stung, he said.

After the students had the opportunity to view the observation hive, Ryan took one last question. “What is your favorite part of beekeeping?” With a shy smile at the older man seated next to him, Ryan answered, “Spending time with my grandpa and talking about bees.”

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