FLOYD COUNTY — As the bees swarmed around them, Bill Connelly said John Schellenberger must be invisible.

On a hot day in early July, Connelly was covered in a protective suit complete with gloves to guard against bee stings. His partner in the extraction, Schellenberger, simply wore a T-shirt and a veil over his face.

As they scraped the sweet honey from the honeycomb, Schellenberger insisted it’s an extraction and not thievery. The bees seemed to think differently. Despite the use of a non-lethal spray that causes many of the insects to fly away for a few moments, several bees hover around, wanting to protect the fruits of their labor.

“I’ve just always had an interest in bees because I think they’re just such cool little critters,” Connelly said. “I think we take for granted the pollinators that are out there.”

On that day, Schellenberger and Connelly were making an annual extraction from brood boxes installed on a property along Captain Frank Road in New Albany. The homeowner allowed them to set up the colony in exchange for jars of honey.

The two are delighted when they see how pure the honey is, but a yelp from Schellenberger momentarily pauses the collection. It seems he’s not quite invisible after all, as a bee found a place for his stinger on his arm.

It’s certainly not the first time Schellenberger has been stung, but the environmental importance of bees coupled with the great taste of fresh honey make it worthwhile for him.

Schellenberger, who is a Floyd County Commissioner, has been a beekeeper for about 20 years. His father was also a beekeeper. He maintains about 20 colonies between New Albany, Greenville and Mount Saint Francis.

Schellenberger is president of The Beekeepers of Indiana and is also a member and facilitator of the local club Spring Valley Beekeepers. The club meets monthly with about 40 to 50 members attending.

“Each year we are seeing an increase in interest in beekeeping at our local meetings,” Schellenberger said.

The club matches new beekeepers, or “newbees,” with mentors to help with their chances of success. Schellenberger’s mentors were the late Kenny Schneider and Tony Stewart.

“Both are deceased and the best tribute to them is to do what they did for me — become a mentor, reach out to beekeepers and help them along,” he said.

Schellenberger has served as an adviser to Connelly, and he’s passed the love of beekeeping on to his 14-year-old son Kiran. The teenager helped his father and Schellenberger store the slats of honey during the extraction.

“I enjoy it because it’s a chance to be able to get out in nature, and who doesn’t love honey?,” Kiran said.

The trio took great care to ensure that the hives were put back together correctly. They want to come back next year for more honey, but they also want to protect the bees from the upcoming winter cold.

“I used to purchase bees in the springtime to replenish my winter losses but for the past six years, we have been setting out swarm traps to catch spring swarms or respond to calls of swarms,” Schellenberger said. “By catching these swarms, we are providing a public service reducing the number of colonies finding residency” in homes and garages.

Schellenberger works with Gina Anderson at the Purdue Extension Office, helping her with the Beekeeping A-Z class.

There’s no denying Schellenberger’s passion for beekeeping. He said he doesn’t like to answer questions about it unless people have an hour to listen.

“The honey bees pollinate one-third of the food we eat and I’m not sure how we would exist or if we could exist without the hard-working little honey bees,” he said.

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