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Local bee population facing many challenges

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 12:23 p.m. CST
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(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Glenn Mize keeps two hives of honeybees behind his Geneva Township home. Mize recently rescued a wild honeybee colony and hopes to move them to his current hives.

GENEVA – The old oak in the Kirkwood subdivision in Geneva was two feet wide when it fell down in a recent wind. 

As a tree service began cutting the log into manageable pieces, they found a hive of wild bees inside. That’s where Geneva resident Glenn Mize stepped in.

“I was called to save the bees,” said Mize, 38, a beekeeper. “A lot of the bees had actually got smashed when the tree fell. I used a chain saw to score and wedge the log and a sledge hammer to split it open. I just removed each piece of comb gently to a bee box to try to save as many bees as possible.”

Saving the bees was important, as they are becoming more valuable because they have been facing more challenges. Among them, Mize said, are colony collapse disorder, attacks by predatory mites and now small hive beetles, as well as habitat destruction and pesticide use.

“With all of these things, it’s a wonder honeybees have made it this far,” Mize said. “The bees – they’re trying to tell us something. We are manipulating their existence too much.”

As to the method of moving a swarm of wild honeybees, Mize said he laced the hive with bee pheromones as a lure and left it where the 30,000 to 40,000 surviving bees from the fallen log could migrate once they calmed down from all their trauma.

“First, their tree collapsed and then landscapers cut through the middle of their home with a chainsaw and then tried to use a leaf blower on them before I got there,” Mize said. “They’ve had a rough week.”

• • •

Laura Andersen, a Campton Hills village trustee and a beekeeper for the historical Garfield Farm, echoed Mize’s observations about challenges and stress for the honeybee population.

Andersen believes the honeybee numbers are down in the local area.

“We still have issues with natural problems they have – mites and bacterial infections – and also pesticide spraying,” Andersen said. “I lost a hive this year because a farmer sprayed during high winds, and basically I lost the whole honey crop. I don’t know how many bees make it back to the hive contaminated, and so I cannot use any of the honey. It wiped out a whole hive.”

Andersen also maintains beehives at the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension’s gardens at Peck Road and Route 38.

“No spraying is done there, so the bees are pretty protected,” Andersen said.

But the effect of pesticides on the world bee population has been noted in concerns over global agriculture. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization noted that 71 of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of human food are pollinated by bees. 

In April, the European Commission enacted a two-year ban on a class of pesticides – neonicotinoids – believed to be responsible for damaging bee populations. The ban will go into effect Dec. 1. 

• • •

Ed Bell, an Oswego beekeeper, also collects bee swarms that need to be removed from trees or buildings, said weather also has been a factor in the reduction of honeybee populations in the region. 

Products from his honey company, Belfry Bees and Honey, is sold at the Coffee Drop Shop in Geneva.

“It’s been a tough year for honeybees,” Bell said. “Bees came off a hard winter. They ate so much of their honey stores, and it was so cold later and extended, they could not do cleansing flights.”

Bell said bees will not defecate in their hives. They wait until temperatures rise to about 35 degrees, then take a flight to cleanse themselves.

For Bell, mites and small hive beetles are big factors affecting all honeybees, those kept by beekeepers and wild or feral hives.

“Mites were introduced in 1986 and began to devastate the feral population, making managed bees all the more important,” Bell said. “I would encourage people to plant bee-friendly plants and not use pesticides on their plants or their yards.”

Or better yet, he said, become a beekeeper and keep one or two hives in the backyard.

“There are folks who keep bees on balconies in Chicago,” Bell said.

On the web:

• Bee rescue – www.kirkwoodhomes.org/honey-bees-in-kirkwood.html.

• Belfry Bees and Honey – www.belfrybees.com.

• Fox Valley Beekeepers Association – www.facebook.com/foxvalleybeekeepers.

• Illinois State Beekeepers Association – www.ilsba.com.

• European Union – http://europa.eu/index_en.htm.

• Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – www.fao.org/home/en.

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