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Offline wpr  
#1 Posted : Tuesday, July 23, 2013 5:38:37 AM(UTC)
wpr

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Commercial beekeeper Tim May has worked 16-hour days, six or seven days a week for the past month to get more than a thousand hives with millions of honeybees settled in the countryside of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.

Spring has not been easy for northern Illinois beekeepers like him who lost anywhere from 40 to more than 80 percent of their hives over the fall and winter. Now they struggle to rebuild.

It was "the perfect storm" that did them in, beekeepers say. And this season, which some call their worst ever, follows what was for many one of their best — 2011-12, when their bees were healthy and the honey abundant.

Problems exist throughout the country, where preliminary figures from the American Beekeeping Federation show that 31 percent of managed bee colonies were lost this season — more than 40 percent higher than a year ago.

"I have yet to talk to anybody who came out of this year (2012-13) and didn't have some losses, notable losses," said Jim Belli, a Wadsworth beekeeper and president of the Illinois State Beekeepers Association.
In northern Illinois, last summer's drought meant less nectar and pollen available for the bees, which left bee colonies weak as autumn arrived. Then came a long winter followed by a cold spring with late blooms. That was topped off with the usual assault of parasitic mites and viruses, exposure to crop pesticides, an increasing number of single-crop farms and the decrease of bee habitat — weeds, flowers and fence rows.

Habitat is important for bees to get the nourishment they need to produce honey and pollinate plants. About one-third of our foods and beverages are made possible through pollination, mainly by honeybees, according to the federal government.

May, a third-generation beekeeper in Marengo, estimates he lost 80 percent of his 1,400 hives in the fall and winter. He found in late fall that his bees were stressed and hurting.

After replenishing, he is working with 1,300 hives this year. He bought many new bees that come in 2- and 3-pound packages, and he split some of his stronger hives into two, moving half the bees and a new queen into a new box to form a colony.

Commercial beekeeper Phil Raines, of Davis, west of Rockford, had 150 of his 500 hives die at Raines Honey Farm. He estimated his financial loss at about $30,000.

And as the bees decline in number, the price for them goes up. Raines and others predict that honey and other food prices will follow.

"There are all these straws on the camel's back, and the poor bees can't take it anymore," Raines said. "It doesn't matter how small or how large your operation is. Your bees are dying. This year is worse than any year we've had."

May agrees. He owns and operates May's Honey Farms with his father, Phil, and son, Colin. They keep 30 to 40 hives at 44 locations, generally on parcels of rural land they call bee yards. In business since 1948, the Mays sell packaged Sunny Hill Honey through independent grocers and farmers markets.

"It's gotten more and more difficult to keep bees," he said. "We had it bad about 15 years ago, but this is the worst."

Downstate beekeepers like Rich Ramsey in Rochester, east of Springfield, report minimal loss. Ramsey lost just one of his 25 hives and said he does not think beekeepers around him suffered any significant losses, but he points out that losses vary from year to year. It is not unusual, experts said, for a beekeeper to lose 5 to 25 percent of his hives each year.

But, Ramsey said, beekeeping even in the best years is not as simple as it used to be.

"I don't know much, but I do know that 30 years ago you could put bees in a hive, turn them loose and not have to worry about them," said Ramsey, vice president of the state beekeepers association. "It's a management issue now. You have to do things you didn't have to do before. It's more work."

Nationwide, the biggest news among beekeepers since 2006 has been colony collapse disorder, during which bees die and disappear. CCD is most widely recognized among large commercial operations that truck hives into California each spring to pollinate the almond groves, then move them on to orchards and crops around the country.

"We think (CCD) occurs more in large commercial operations," said Gene Robinson, entomologist and director of the Bee Research Facility at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "However, they may be in a position to monitor more carefully and intensively than some hobby beekeepers … and those are the bees most stressed."

According to apiary inspection supervisor Steve Chard of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, there has been only one documented case of CCD in Illinois — last year in Boone County, near Rockford.

There are about 2,000 registered beekeepers statewide, managing 21,000 colonies, Chard said. Eighty-five percent are hobbyists.

Jim and Karen Belli, hobby beekeepers for 12 years, have been winning ribbons at the state fair for their honey. This season they lost 10 of 16 hives.

"We have always had some losses, but not this heavy," Jim Belli said. "For me, the two critical things were the drought and the varroa mite. The drought weakened the bees, and then the varroa took over."

The varroa destructor mite, a parasitic Asian mite the size of a pinhead, was first discovered in the U.S. in Florida in 1987. Although beekeepers can treat their hives to minimize the mite's damage, it has spread through the country like a plague, Jim Belli said.

There are efforts to breed bees that are resistant to it, Robinson said, but he cautions about other mites in other parts of the world that may be as bad if not worse. "We live in fear of getting those mites as well," he said.

The varroa mite is "no big deal" in Asia, where the bees and the mites co-evolved, and so the bees are resistant to it, he explained. Here it causes massive die-off and leads to viruses that infect the bees.

Also high on the list of bee adversaries are pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, which are incorporated into the plant itself. European officials recently moved toward banning the nicotine-derived neonicotinoids, but U.S officials have said there is not enough evidence to support banning one group of pesticides and that the cost of banning could exceed the benefits.

At Kuipers Family Farm, near Maple Park, Wade Kuipers grows pumpkins and has 25 acres of apple orchard. For the past two years he hired Tim May to bring in bees to pollinate the apple trees, and both years they found the bees dying right outside the hives.

Kuipers questions the effect of chemicals being applied to the crops in nearby farms. A state apiary inspector removed some live bees from his hives for study, according to Chard. The results are pending.

Dead bees in front of a hive are a classic symptom of chemical poisoning, Robinson said.

Communication between farmers and beekeepers is important. Whenever possible, farmers should use materials that are less toxic to bees and apply chemicals to fields when they can minimize bee contact, Robinson said.

"Of course growers have demands on their time," he said, "but that kind of give-and-take would certainly help minimize situations."

Aurora beekeeper Charles Lorence believes "suburbia is getting to be a better place for bees than the country," because there is more variety and more bee habitat than in the country, which has become mostly corn and soybeans.

A longtime beekeeper, he lost 10 of 25 hives this year but remains "the eternal optimist," seeing promise in an increased awareness of bees and the fact that the suburbs and the city are becoming home to more hobby beekeepers.

There are no empty seats when Lorence teaches beekeeping in Wheaton, Geneva and at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Ramsey finds the same popularity downstate. Classes don't have to be advertised and the men could fill more, they said.

"It's a missionary zeal to save the honeybee," explains Lorence, who predicts that a quarter to less than half of his students will stick with beekeeping as a lifelong hobby. "Others will get stung or just lose interest."

Increased interest helps not only improve local gardens with pollination, but, Robinson said, "The more people educated and knowledgeable about hobby beekeeping and how to keep them and what their value is, the more their case can be made to the general public."

Jim Belli knows others are fascinated by his hobby. An architect, he chuckles that people at parties would rather hear about his bees than his buildings.

"I would have never thought you could become that attached to an insect, but you do," he said. "When you lose them, it's heartfelt."

Phil Raines was working in a bee yard recently on a muggy, windy afternoon near Elburn, keeping an eye on what appeared to be an approaching storm. Sweat rolled down his face under the protective bee hat and veil, and he had been stung a few times before he got the suit on. He shrugged it off.

"It's not one thing alone that's killing our bees. It's the barrage of things, one on top of the other," he said. "Even with all these trials and tribulations, the reward side of beekeeping is unimaginable. When you lose them, it breaks your heart. It's a sense of failure. Like you didn't get your job done."


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Offline Wade  
#2 Posted : Tuesday, July 23, 2013 7:49:43 AM(UTC)
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I'm curious. How many hives does a typical beekeeper have?

How about you, Troy? How many do you have?
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
Offline wpr  
#3 Posted : Tuesday, July 23, 2013 8:39:29 AM(UTC)
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I have no idea what is typical. I suppose one factor would be are they doing it commercially or a hobbyist.
Also how many other hives are in the area. IE- is there enough plants to pollinate? The story talked about one man having hives all over northern IL. I always figured the beekeeper would, at most, have them scattered over a 5-10 mile radius but that was about it.

I could see them having two or three hives in any one spot I mean bee yard and then having a couple of more a half mile away.

I seem to recall Troy saying the amateur I mean hobby keepers don't do enough to keep the mites down.
"You don't hurt 'em if you don't hit 'em." Chesty Puller



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Offline DakotaT  
#4 Posted : Tuesday, July 23, 2013 5:40:19 PM(UTC)
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We lease around 3500 hives in the summer and spread them out over a 70 mile radius or so. I don't worry about all these diseases and things because the lessors take care of that. I do sometimes help them medicate.
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Offline wpr  
#5 Posted : Tuesday, July 23, 2013 5:44:03 PM(UTC)
wpr

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that is a huge amount of hives. At least to me. No wonder you have to work so hard.
"You don't hurt 'em if you don't hit 'em." Chesty Puller



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Offline DakotaT  
#6 Posted : Tuesday, July 23, 2013 6:03:13 PM(UTC)
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Originally Posted by: wpr Go to Quoted Post
that is a huge amount of hives. At least to me. No wonder you have to work so hard.


I don't call you guys pussies because I'm mean. I do it because compared to me, you are! Big Grin

And just for fun, my BA at the Union Hall just sent me up to Antelope Valley Station for a six month gig at the power plant. No rest for Dumbass Dakota this summer. I'm gonna be extra ornery until November.
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Zero2Cool on 7/24/2013(UTC)
Offline dfosterf  
#7 Posted : Tuesday, July 23, 2013 6:08:10 PM(UTC)
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Bees are big. You ask any farmer or anyone that knows anything about growing stuff...

Bees are big.

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damn skippy I'm an owner. I currently own a full .00001924537805515393 % of the Green Bay Packers.



Offline wpr  
#8 Posted : Tuesday, July 23, 2013 6:11:11 PM(UTC)
wpr

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Originally Posted by: DakotaT Go to Quoted Post
I don't call you guys pussies because I'm mean. I do it because compared to me, you are! Big Grin

And just for fun, my BA at the Union Hall just sent me up to Antelope Valley Station for a six month gig at the power plant. No rest for Dumbass Dakota this summer. I'm gonna be extra ornery until November.


who wrangles the herd when you are gone?
bees not the girls.
"You don't hurt 'em if you don't hit 'em." Chesty Puller



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Offline DakotaT  
#9 Posted : Tuesday, July 23, 2013 6:42:26 PM(UTC)
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Originally Posted by: wpr Go to Quoted Post
who wrangles the herd when you are gone?
bees not the girls.


I have a partner, and we hire guys. I am a jobs creator you know.

We also use some contract labor - Mexicans - who could work circles around Gunny and Texas - at any age.
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wpr on 7/23/2013(UTC), DoddPower on 7/24/2013(UTC)
Offline Wade  
#10 Posted : Wednesday, July 24, 2013 6:12:36 AM(UTC)
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Originally Posted by: DakotaT Go to Quoted Post
I have a partner, and we hire guys. I am a jobs creator you know.

We also use some contract labor - Mexicans - who could work circles around Gunny and Texas - at any age.


I don't know whether the Mexicans around me are illegal or not. Frankly, I don't care. Why?

There was a big deportation roundup down the road in Postville a few years back. It annoyed the heck out me. Why?

Because, IMO, the work ethic of Mexicans around here, legal or illegal, well surpasses that of the "average Americans" around them. We'd be better off with more, rather than less.

IMO the average "border control" employee (or politician ranting about immigration reform) does less for our country than the average "illegal immigrant."

Far less.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
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thanks Post received 1 applause.
DoddPower on 7/24/2013(UTC)
Offline Wade  
#11 Posted : Wednesday, July 24, 2013 6:16:47 AM(UTC)
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Originally Posted by: DakotaT Go to Quoted Post
I have a partner, and we hire guys. I am a jobs creator you know.


I keep telling myself that if I get myself in semi-decent shape (i.e., under 290 lbs), I may take you up on that offer you once made to PH people for summer work as a way to get myself cash flow while I look for a better (i.e., sit on my ass) long term job. (Assuming such an offer is still on the table by the time I get there.)

Even if the idea of multiple bee stings scares the crap outta me.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
Offline wpr  
#12 Posted : Wednesday, July 24, 2013 9:54:43 AM(UTC)
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Originally Posted by: Wade Go to Quoted Post
I keep telling myself that if I get myself in semi-decent shape (i.e., under 290 lbs), I may take you up on that offer you once made to PH people for summer work as a way to get myself cash flow while I look for a better (i.e., sit on my ass) long term job. (Assuming such an offer is still on the table by the time I get there.)

Even if the idea of multiple bee stings scares the crap outta me.



backwards Prof. That is backwards thinking. Get up there out of your normal routine. Get a little work in the sun and your weight will drop.
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Offline Wade  
#13 Posted : Wednesday, July 24, 2013 10:10:45 AM(UTC)
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Originally Posted by: wpr Go to Quoted Post
backwards Prof. That is backwards thinking. Get up there out of your normal routine. Get a little work in the sun and your weight will drop.


Well, as I imagine Troy will tell you, beekeeping work is more than "a little work in the sun". :)

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
Offline wpr  
#14 Posted : Wednesday, July 24, 2013 11:13:15 AM(UTC)
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Originally Posted by: Wade Go to Quoted Post
Well, as I imagine Troy will tell you, beekeeping work is more than "a little work in the sun". :)



absolutely. I am guilty of a gross generalization. but I did it intentionally.
"You don't hurt 'em if you don't hit 'em." Chesty Puller



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Offline DoddPower  
#15 Posted : Wednesday, July 24, 2013 12:31:35 PM(UTC)
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Originally Posted by: DakotaT Go to Quoted Post
I don't call you guys pussies because I'm mean. I do it because compared to me, you are! Big Grin

And just for fun, my BA at the Union Hall just sent me up to Antelope Valley Station for a six month gig at the power plant. No rest for Dumbass Dakota this summer. I'm gonna be extra ornery until November.


Antelope Valley? I'm assuming you're NOT talking about the good 'ole Antelope Valley of southern California, considering where you live? Blah, I left a paradise to come to the scorching high desert! Silly me.
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