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After more than 30 years of beekeeping, Buzz Vance -- and yes, that is his name -- still is fascinated by the honey-making winged wonders.

As an entomologist for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Vance knows the insect world inside and out. But he's smitten with Apis mellifera, better known as honeybees, an interest he describes as "more than a hobby."

Vance sells honey from his bees at the Haymarket Farmers Market and is the guy to call if you need to capture a wayward swarm.

He began as an accidental beekeeper, taking over the hives of a grad school friend who stored them on his property. Now Vance has more than 30 hives in three locations and keeps close track of his stackable bee homes.

Right now, beekeeping is on the upswing, and that's a good thing, experts say. At a beginning beekeeper workshop in April in Nebraska City, more than 80 would-be participants learned what it takes to host a hive.

"That's a very good turnout," said Marion Ellis, professor of entomology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and bee specialist.

Ellis is thrilled to see the growing interest in bees in Nebraska, where the European honeybee is the state insect.

Beekeepers often are conservationists, he said. "There is a closeness to the rhythm of nature."

Usually, honey is the third reason on the list of wanting to have hives, Ellis said. First is the fact that bees pollinate things we like to grow, such as orchards, flowers and melons, so garden production often increases. Second is simply the fascination with the insects -- their colonies, the process used to collect food and how they live.

Wild hives are uncommon after years of decreases in population because of the varroa mite. If you see a swarm in the city, chances are good it is a backyard hive that recently divided and is following the queen, searching for a new home, he said.

Mid-April to mid-May is the busiest time of year for beekeepers, Ellis said.

"The goal is to have peak colony population by the first week of June," he said.

Right now, hives are growing, and they need to have adequate space, Vance said. If the bees feel too crowded, they may divide, following a queen to start another hive.

A keeper can check on the hive by opening the box only about once every two weeks, he said.

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"You inspect it, estimate the empty space, see if the cells are full and if there is room to expand," he said.

If it seems confining, he adds another box. Two "deeps" or tall boxes are generally enough for a hive, but you never know. By the end of May, a keeper may add smaller honey boxes as well.

Beekeepers do get stung, but stings are not a problem for Vance or Ellis, they said. Vance prefers to keep bees with known "gentle qualities."

"Bees are not aggressive, only defensive," Ellis said.

Yes, they will sting if you step on one. No, they will not sting if you leave them alone.

Lincoln ordinances allow beekeeping in the city limits, with some restrictions. Bee hives are not to be within 50 feet of any dwelling (other than the owner's) or within 15 feet of any lot line, sidewalk, alley or public way. There is a limit of one hive per 1,500 square feet. And beekeepers must minimize swarming bees, provide water and not create a nuisance.

Keeping bees is pricey, Vance said. It costs about $300 to acquire the equipment and bees to start a hive.

But for Vance, the benefits are sweet.

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Reach Kathryn Cates Moore at 402-473-7214 or at  kmoore@journalstar.com.

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