There’s been a lot of buzz about the vanishing honeybees. And rightly so, as honeybees are crucial to the survival of countless crops, including carrots, cucumbers, onions and almonds. Without pollinators, these and other foods would disappear.
Scientists attribute the decline in the honeybee population to colony collapse disorder (CCD), a troubling phenomenon in which bees have been getting sick and abandoning their hives in record numbers. However, the exact causes for CCD are still debated. Some researchers blame widespread pesticide use, while others speculate there may be a virus attacking bees’ immune systems. Regardless of the cause, bees are in trouble.
One way to help honeybees is to increase the number of people keeping local hives. White Bear Lake resident Gloria Drake aims to do her part to help the bee population. After watching a documentary on vanishing bees and learning how endangered they really are, Drake decided to become a beekeeper. She enlisted the help of her husband Craig, and together they navigated the process to make it happen.
In November 2013, Gloria and Craig took an 8-hour beekeeping class at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. There they learned the basics: how and where to set up the beehives, what bees like and don’t like, and interesting facts about bees, such as the efficiency of their work structure. “There can be 80,000 bees in one hive,” Gloria says, “and they all have a job to do and do it.”
Once they learned how to care for bees, Gloria and Craig had to tackle a city ordinance that classified bees as livestock, thus prohibiting beekeeping. They appeared before the planning commission to present their case, and once the commission agreed, they moved on to the city council. The 3-month process resulted in votes in their favor, and put White Bear Lake on other cities’ radars. “I ran into the city manager,” Gloria says, “and he told me other cities are calling White Bear as more people get interested in bees.”
The Drakes purchased and received their two inaugural European honeybee hives from Nature’s Nectar, located in Stillwater, in April. They began by feeding the bees sugar water and pollen food until flowers began to bloom and bees could feed off the flowers.
The beehives are essentially layered boxes, called “supers,” that support framed sheets of mesh where the bees deposit their honey. “As the season goes on and the colony grows, we may need to add additional supers to allow for that growth,” Craig explains. Gloria continues, “Once the hive gets to more than 80 percent full, you want to split it, otherwise [the bees] could swarm.”
In the fall, Gloria and Craig will collect the honey. First they will remove the honey-rich frames and the beeswax that has collected on them. Then they will extract the honey, which involves placing the frames inside a mechanical device that uses centrifugal force to warm and separate the honey from the frame.
The couple intends to keep or give as gifts any honey that’s generated. But chances are most of the honey, if not all, will go back to the bees to nourish them over the winter months. According to Gloria, each hive will need about 80 to 100 pounds of honey to sustain the bees. “We’re thinking we’ll be lucky if we get any honey at all during year one,” Craig says, “but time will tell.”
Fun Facts About Bees
- A queen bee can live three to five years and lays 2,000 eggs a day.
- Bees can fly up to a 5-mile radius.
- Bees can be traced back to the Stone Age.
- Bees have 170 different odor entry receptacles.
- Worker bees and drone bees live four to six months.
- Each bee only makes half of a teaspoon of honey during its lifetime.