- Associated Press - Saturday, July 18, 2015

CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) - Listening to Kenny Fisher talk about his bees means one might have to double check to make sure he’s still talking about the winged insects and not humans operating in a model society.

How every one of the bees has a job to do to make the colony hum.

How when the colony becomes too large, the bees somehow “understand” this, and scouts leave to go search for a new location, then create a new queen for the new colony.

Fisher represents one of many Southern Illinois beekeepers trying to raise awareness about the plight of the common bee and other pollinators, whose decline could pose serious threats to humans and their food sources. In the past decade, the United States has lost more than 50 percent of its managed honeybee colonies, according to the Pollinator Partnership website.

“One-third of our food supply (is pollinated by) bees,” Fisher said. “If it wasn’t for our bees, we wouldn’t have one-third of our food.”

For instance, California’s almond food crop is hugely dependent on the honeybees, Fisher said. Pollination also helps produce chocolate and coffee, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s page on pollinators.

About 1,000 plants need to be pollinated by animals in order to produce the goods that humans use, according to Pollinator Partnership. In addition to bees, other pollinators are birds, butterflies, bats, moths, beetles, which transport pollen from one part of the plant to another part or an entirely different plant, fertilizing the plant, making it capable of producing fruit or seeds.

Fisher’s interest in bees was piqued about eight years ago when he worked for Scott Martin, a district conservationist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

He now has a total of 10 beehives, two stationed at opposite ends of his sprawling backyard and the rest across the road on a neighbor’s property. Fisher’s hobby has also morphed into a part-time business, the Arrowhead Apiary of Carbondale, which produces pure honey that he bottles and sells at farmers’ markets.

He is also part of the Southern Illinois Beekeepers Association, which now has about 100 members.

The threats

The bees are endangered by pesticides sprayed or distributed to kill weeds and plants considered noxious, such as milkweed and clover, on which bees and butterflies feed.

“They call them weeds, but they’re not really weeds,” Fisher said. “The state of Illinois needs to take that into consideration.”

Some gardeners also use the insecticide neonicotinoid, which is also fatal to the bee population. Even after the chemical is used, it can stay around for months afterward, still impacting the bees, Fisher said.

It’s nobody’s fault that bees are being adversely impacted, Fisher said. “It’s just a learning process.”

Martin suggested that people using insecticides on their gardens use the chemical later in the day, maybe 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., after pollinators have typically stopped working.

The honeybees are also threatened by varroa mites and small hive beetles, Fisher said. The varroa mites are parasites that lay eggs in the bees’ cells; the small-hive beetles can get into beehives and, if the hive is not really strong, cause a lot of damage, Fisher said.

Fisher said he’d like to see the bees adapt and evolve over time to become resistant to these threats.

Whole hives can also be lost during really cold weather, he noted.

“When the whole hive dies, I mourn,” he said.

Join the hive of activity

Fisher and Martin encourage others to try keeping bees or nurturing their growth outdoors.

Years ago, Martin said he had a goal of seeing 100 beekeepers; he noted that the Southern Illinois All-A-Buzz group is close to realizing that figure.

“I’d like to see 100 new beekeepers, with two hives each, rather than one guy with 200, expand, ‘cause every one of those people who is a new beekeeper has 20 friends (who) is interested in it,” Martin said. “You can get the message out that a lot of people, (even) if you don’t like bees necessarily, you can still plant flowers and cover on your property that can be advantageous to them.”

Fisher agreed.

“You can have one in your backyard as long as you’re not against the code” for your municipality, he said.

Even those who are not that adventurous can still plant flowering plants or other items that pollinators are known to use.

Fisher got the chance to share part of his passion during this past Sunday’s Garden Tour in Carbondale, in which Fisher and his wife, Phyllis, participated. Phyllis noted that he was so excited to hand guests small butterfly plants to help struggling butterflies.

The bees also support by-products, like the pure honey that Fisher bottles each year. Last year, he said the bees produced 360 pounds of honey, enabling him to create 500 bottles of honey - 1 pound and 2 ounce containers.

“From the plants to the hives to the bottle, it’s kind of cool,” Phyllis Fisher said.


Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, https://bit.ly/1Kwfvca


Information from: Southern Illinoisan, https://www.southernillinoisan.com

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