Busy bees hold nature's keys; local keepers create buzz
RIVER FALLS, Wis. - Jerome "Jerry" Rodewald said about honeybees, "It's an interesting society." He and son Don keep on their town of River Falls property an estimated 2.5 million honeybees in their apiary that includes about 50 hives, which the ...
RIVER FALLS, Wis. - Jerome "Jerry" Rodewald said about honeybees, "It's an interesting society."
He and son Don keep on their town of River Falls property an estimated 2.5 million honeybees in their apiary that includes about 50 hives, which the keepers estimate each have 50,000-60,000 bees.
Don worked at a commercial beekeeping operation while in school. That experience came in handy when a friend of Jerry's gave him a hive. Both men started beekeeping about 30-35 years ago.
Coming from a farming background, the two like beekeeping because it is an agricultural activity and because people can use everything the bees make.
People eat the honey and use the wax for candle making. The keepers say the glue-like substance bees make called propolis has healing and antiseptic properties and is used in many kinds of health food.
A speaker at one of their St. Croix County Beekeepers Association meetings said propolis may be key to a cure for AIDS.
Bees make honey, grow food
Jerry and Don say some people who suffer from allergies seek local, unprocessed honey hoping to build up their resistance to local pollen.
The men say bees pollinate most fruit trees and flowers as well as several things in a food garden, including cucumbers, strawberries, melon and squash.
Jerry said, "If it doesn't get pollinated right, it won't grow right."
The bees' natural home would be a hollow tree trunk or stump. Their home at the Rodewalds' apiary is in drawer-shaped boxes called supers that hold several rectangular "frames" on which the bees make their hive and produce honey.
The men demonstrate several tools of the beekeeping trade. A smoker burns twine or burlap to drive out the bees when it's time to check their hive.
"When the bees smell smoke, they think their tree is on fire," said Jerry.
The hive tools look like a thick-edged putty knives and are used for prying apart the frames inside the hives and for removing the occasional stinger.
Don and Jerry say they invested in good beekeeping suits made with thick fabric, zip-on veils, long gloves and heavy rubber boots. Don forgoes the gloves because it takes away his sense of touch.
"You don't usually get stung a lot," he said.
Jerry on the other hand, is allergic to bee stings and always wears the gloves.
When they check hives, they look for fresh eggs, a working queen, beeswax, honey and enough space. They listen for the buzz of busy bees doing their jobs.
Don said, "They're not happy if they can't work."
The two men say they could speak about bees all day and the fascinating job they've been doing instinctively for about 120 million years.
They say it's easy to take up beekeeping. Anyone can order a starter kit, which comes in the mail complete with a queen bee, a few workers and some syrup for food.
They agree the St. Croix County Beekeepers Association is a great place for people to learn more (see related sidebar or go to www.stcroixbeekeepers.org .)
See a ball, make the call
The St. Croix County Beekeepers Association meets the second Thursday of each month March-October at the Baldwin government center. For the first time this year, SCCBA offers the service of swarm removal.
The swarm looks like a big ball of bees and usually hangs from a tree branch, bush, lamppost and patio furniture. Swarming bees will stay in one place for a day or two.
Honeybees swarm when a hive gets full, and a group breaks off to start a new one.
Beekeepers can use the swarm balls to start another hive, so they ask people to call for removal rather than killing them.
When a beekeeper comes to remove a swarm, they bring an empty hive and place it underneath the swarm. The bees usually take to their new home within minutes.
After the bees settle down, the beekeeper can seal the hive and take it away.
Beekeepers Jerry and Don Rodewald say most people mistake honey bees for wasps or yellow jackets and end up spraying and killing them. Don said if people see bees clumped in a ball, they are definitely honeybees.
Don says with a smile, "If they're not in a ball, don't call."