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Edgerton Hospital plans honeybee apiary on its campus

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Neil Johnson
May 20, 2013

— Mark Kindschi soon will start wearing a one-piece suit with sting-proof gloves. It's a fashion choice certain to turn heads at his job at Edgerton Hospital.

By June, Kindschi, the hospital's human resources director, could have hundreds of thousands of new personnel to take care of at the hospital.

The hospital plans to establish an apiary—a honeybee colony, for the uninitiate—and Kindschi, a lifelong beekeeper, will be in charge of caring for the bees there.

The bees, eventually about 360,000 of them, Kindschi said, will live on the community garden grounds at the south end of the hospital campus. All they'll need is a home, pollen and water.

Kindschi said hospital CEO Jim Pernau began discussing the idea a few months ago of increasing pollination at the hospital's gardens, which are used to grow healthy food and herbs for local residents and to stock the hospital's cafeteria and food and patient services with fresh produce and flowers in the summer.

"The gardens were new last year. He believed that we could have had better production had we had better pollination. That's where the bees come in," Kindschi said.

Pernau then learned Kindschi is a beekeeper. He approached Kindschi, excited about the potential of a bee colony at the hospital.

There was no question who would become the resident beekeeper.

"I'm the guy that'll be taking care of the bees, that much is for certain," Kindschi said.

Kindschi, an Edgerton resident, has been keeping bees for 35 years—since he was a high school student.

He said the hospital's plans for an apiary include six commercial hives and would provide enough bee power to pollinate the 30-acre community gardens, some of which are divided into residents' plots.

The same bees will pollinate flowers, landscaping and wooded areas all around the hospital's 80-acre "healthy village" campus that winds outside the hospital along North Sherman Road.

The hospital's bees also will benefit the flower and vegetable gardens for neighbors in the immediate area.

"The bees will cover a lot larger area, a lot more ground than just our hospital. They will provide pollination service for up to a mile and a half around the hospital," Kindschi said.

The hospital is planning to plant a fruit tree orchard next year. The idea is to give patients and visitors a place where they can pick fruit off the tree and eat it on the spot.

The bees will be a boon to that plan, too.

The hospital's apiary plans haven't yet touched on honey production. Kindschi said that would be an ancillary part of the bee colony.

"If there is an excess of honey, we will harvest it and utilize it in the cafeteria. It's not the primary reason for our beekeeping, but the honey will not go to waste," Kindschi said.

Kindschi said that the hospital plans to place the beehives away from areas where the public will be actively tending gardens. He said it chose Italian honeybees, a type of bee with a mild disposition. They're less likely to swarm and sting anyone than other varieties of bees, Kindschi said.

"Italian bees are a pretty docile temperament honeybee. They're a pretty nice and friendly honeybee. They're not at all aggressive," he said.

The bees will be most active from mid-spring to fall, but their hives on the hospital grounds will be their year-round home.

"They cluster up in the hive and shiver through the winters. Then in spring, they wake up and get going again," Kindschi said.

Kindschi's work as the hospital's de facto beekeeper will be unpaid volunteer work. He's also planning beekeeping classes at the hospital over the winter, and the hospital is considering letting him give tours of the hives so residents can see how beekeeping works.

"It's surprising the number of people who have heard about this plan who come up to me and say, ‘Hey do you have an extra bee suit?'"

The hospital's apiary plan is still being reviewed by the city, and it faces zoning and conditional-use hurdles before it can be put in place. City officials say the plan could get approval by mid-June.

Under proposed city rules, beekeeping would be allowed in big business and commercial tracts on the outskirts of the city—not residential areas, although some nearby communities outside of Madison allow backyard beekeeping.

For their part, the hospital's bees are now living in Rock County—and they're eager to get moving, Kindschi said.

"They're at an undisclosed location," Kindschi said, laughing. "No, not really. They're on the rural property of a friend in the town of Fulton. They're doing their thing out there, and as soon as we get this zoning issue approved, I'll move them on the (hospital) property."



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