Think about bees
A scientist, a beekeeper and a minister walk into a bar.
Richard Kretzschmar’s life reads like the beginning one of those rule of three jokes. Except that in his story, he plays all three characters.
The 84 year old is both a botanist and a Methodist minister by trade — and he keeps bees on the side.
Kretzschmar grew up in St. Louis, Mich. He earned an undergraduate degree from Central Michigan University, before earning a masters in botany from the University of Tennessee and a divinity degree from Vanderbilt University. He’s spent his life embracing the intimate connection between religion and appreciation for the natural world. He’s a master of shepherding flocks, whether they’re humans or honeybees.
Kretzschmar has been keeping bees for over 40 years. He first became interested in them while serving as a campus minister at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kan. Another faculty member was a beekeeper and showed Kretzschmar the ropes.
“I was interested in the society,” Kretzschmar said. “They all go through this series of different responsibilities.”
Kretzschmar is currently tending to just one hive, though he’s had as many as five in the past. He’s a fierce advocate of bees and their importance to human life.
“We like to eat,” Kretzschmar said. “And a lot of our food comes from plants that need to be pollinated.”
Honeybee numbers have become mainstream news in recent years as keepers across the country report high colony losses. In the winter of 2019-20, it’s estimated 22.2 percent of all managed honeybee colonies in the United States were lost, according to the Bee Informed Partnership. That’s actually down significantly from the 2018-19 winter, when 37.7 percent of colonies were lost. But the numbers in the last decade are still trending upward.
Causes for increased bee loss varies. Varroa mites and several diseases are cited as causing part of the decline, as is increased exposure to pesticides used in agricultural production, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Kretzschmar said he sees pesticide use as a major factor in bee loss.
“People that are applying them, need to apply them properly,” he said.
Anyone applying pesticides residentially needs to take great care to read instructions and only apply when necessary, and farmers applying on an industrial scale should also take pollinators into consideration before spraying.
“In most states and counties, they’re supposed to inform the beekeeper before they spray, so the beekeeper can cover his hives,” Kretzschmar said. “And they’re encouraged, as I understand it, to spray at nightfall when less bees are out.”
If homeowners are interested in helping bees (people Kretzschmar calls bee evangelists), there are several easy steps that can be done in any back yard to promote bee health.
Kretzschmar has a pollinator garden in his yard, filled with bee friendly plants. They’re easy to plant, grow and maintain, and will be of great assistance to any bee colonies in the area. Some of the more common species for those interested in planting a pollinator garden are flowers like Red Bee Balm, Black Eyed Susan, Spiderwort and Yarrow. Kretzschmar also recommends mowing grass a bit longer than normal, in addition to minimizing herbicide use and foregoing pesticide use altogether if possible.
Kretzschmar said he morns the loss of his bees when a colony doesn’t make it and said he hopes others in the community will keep pollinators in mind while tending their gardens and their yards.
“It’s very much a part of my life. I would like to see, here in this community, people growing friendly plants and using friendly practices to bees in particular,” he said. “We’re all attached to nature. You get your hands dirty and you get involved with God’s creation.”