Kentucky Ag News

Tammy Horn

Tammy Horn pulls a frame covered with bees during a visit to Dadant & Sons in Frankfort in May. (Photo by Chris Aldridge)


Kentucky's new state apiarist is on a mission to share her love of bees


By CHRIS ALDRIDGE, Kentucky Agricultural News


Kentucky State Apiarist Dr. Tammy Horn didn’t find out her true calling in life until she was in her 20s.


In 2000, Horn moved back to her native Kentucky from Alabama to help her grandfather, who had Parkinson’s disease, take care of his beehives on his Fayette County farm.


“It was only out of respect for him,” Horn said. “I thought, in the arrogance of being somebody in their 20s, ‘This is just not my gig.’


“But when we opened that first hive, I intuitively knew that this was something I should’ve been doing all along. I became smitten with bees. I discovered that beekeeping is the most beautiful thing somebody can do.


“Still, even now, I just love working with bee hives, and all the places that bees lead me, and the people they lead me to.”


The latest place is the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, where Horn was hired June 1 to succeed Sean Burgess as state apiarist.


Horn’s duties include identifying and eradicating infectious diseases in Kentucky honey bee colonies, educating the non-beekeeping public about the importance of honey bees, and offering advice to beekeepers. She inspects hives by appointment, provides health certificates for the transport of Kentucky bees out of state, and speaks at beekeeping meetings and various other functions.


“We are very fortunate that we were able to hire Tammy Horn for this important position,” Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said. “Dr. Horn’s passion for beekeeping has led her to a storied career studying these amazing insects and advocating for beekeeping to a nationwide audience. As Kentucky’s state apiarist, she will continue her work to expand the beekeeping economy in Kentucky.”


When she became state apiarist, Horn stepped down as director of Coal Country Beeworks, a project affiliated with Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) that develops pollinator habitat on surface mine sites in the mountains of Kentucky.


Also a successful author


Horn, a former English professor, combined her love of the language and beekeeping to write two books: “Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation” and “Beeconomy: What Women and Bees Can Teach Us About Local Trade and Global Markets.” A third book is forthcoming.


“I wrote the first book for my grandfather and the second for my grandmother,” Horn said.


Horn said her grandfather, Ted Hacker, believed beekeeping was part of responsible agriculture. The Leslie County native and World War II veteran also felt it was one of three requirements to being a responsible citizen.


“He believed you had to read the [news]paper, vote, and keep a hive of bees to be a responsible adult,” Horn said fondly.


Horn’s paternal grandmother, Bess, was a mountain beekeeper in Harlan County, where Horn was born. Horn grew up in Estill County.


“I used to stay with my grandmother in the summer, but [by that time] she didn’t have her bees anymore,” Horn said.


Horn currently has 10 beehives of her own. She lost 15 during last year’s unusually cold winter.


“Coal Country Beeworks has 75 hives, so I was taking care of about 100 in four different counties,” Horn said, referring to Floyd, Leslie, Letcher, and Perry counties.


A memorandum of understanding Horn signed with the department allows her to maintain her office at EKU in Richmond for at least a year while she transitions from director of Coal Country Beeworks. She will continue her collaboration with EKU through the university’s regional stewardship initiatives.


“I can make the transition to state apiarist without feeling like I’m giving up something,” said Horn, who handed the director’s reins over to her former assistant, Randy Rosbrook. “When we hired him in March, we didn’t see any of this coming.”


One of Horn’s goals as state apiarist is to conduct workshops to get Kentucky emergency first responders more prepared for accidents involving bee trucks, whose open-air cargo tends to get angry when disturbed.


“Highway emergency personnel need to know the procedures in dealing with bee trucks,” Horn said, noting most transport about 400 hives during overnight hours. “All of them need to have [bee] veils in their shops.”


Kentucky needs a hive count


But the biggest task facing Horn is something that’s rather routine in other states but has never been done in Kentucky, even though it’s state law – an annual count, by county, of beekeepers and their hives.


“The previous state apiarist started a hive count in 2012, but it never took off,” she said. “He was right on the money. We needed to do this 10-15 years ago. Every other state has required registration for beekeepers.


“It’s going to take 10 years to get people to a point where you’ll get 98-99 percent compliance, but that’s my big goal as long as I’m in this position. I intend to do hive counts, and I intend to track hive losses. We can’t position ourselves for federal funds without those numbers.”


Horn said the 2014 Farm Bill was very kind to beekeepers for a change, allowing them to insure their hives against inevitable winter losses, which have been worsened recently by a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.


“Finally, the federal government is getting on board,” she said. “I’m really optimistic that, by 2019, we’ll be in a better position to have more responsible agriculture for pollinators.”


Horn hopes the next Farm Bill will contain more provisions to regulate irresponsible pesticide use, such as restricting aerial spraying when bees are most active between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., and promote pollinator habitat. 


“It’s an exciting time to be a beekeeper,” she said. “We’ve been the stepchild of agriculture for so long, starting in the 1940s up ’til this year. Beekeepers had no federal subsidies, and we’ve been on the margins of any ag discussions.


“The 2014 Farm Bill finally levels the playing field a little bit, and it’s been a long time coming,” Horn said. “Now we can buy crop insurance. We have something to protect ourselves.”