ANNA — About a dozen pastel-colored boxes rest atop one another, or beside one another, a few with bees gathered at one of their ends or flitting about in the airspace around them.
A few yards away stands an uprighted dead tree trunk, a gaping hole in part of its trunk, where honeybees are bustling about, on and near a honeycomb in their midst.
Visitors to an upcoming beekeeping workshop will learn how natural environments, like that of the trunk transported from Carbondale to the farm in Anna, benefit honeybees, key pollinators for some 1,000 foods around the world. Interested people will learn about other natural ways to keep bees during a three-day beekeeping workshop hosted by Dayempur Farm, in Carbondale and Anna.
This weekend's “Natural Beekeeping Workshop” — featuring bee expert Michael Bush, author of "The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally" — will run from Oct. 6 to 8. The sessions are from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Dayemi Community Center, 218 N. Illinois Ave., in Carbondale, and again from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at Dayempur Farm, 35 Nubbin Ridge Lane in Anna.
The three-day workshop costs $120; Friday’s introductory class is $15, if paid by Wednesday night, or $20 afterward.
The workshop is open to the beginner or experienced beekeeper and anyone who is curious about or has an interest in beekeeping. About 30 people have already pre-registered, but there is space for more.
“Honeybees are amazing creatures,” said Mark Fletter, who organized this event. “We have a lot we can learn from honeybees. … What I’m seeing as a beekeeper is that a lot of our beekeeping practice, a lot of our conventional practices, are not helping. They’re challenging the bees even more.”
Fletter contended that practices in the commercial beekeeping industry can actually be detrimental to bees in their natural habitat: Those practices, he said, include the removal of their natural food, honey, to replace it with sugar substitute like high-fructose corn syrup. Companies that sell the honeycomb model also tend to make the objects a slightly larger than the size of an average honeycomb, leading to an altered size in the honeybees. Plus, he noted, the honeybee is designed to build its own honeycomb.
He also noted that some pesticides used to kill the mites that feed on honeybees further serve to alter their natural ecological environment and their resistance to fighting off the parasites.
“There is a bit of a modern movement to get back to natural beekeeping, modern beekeeping, which is mimicking the way the bees live in nature," he shared. "What we’re trying to do is share that information with people.”
All abuzz at Dayempur
Fletter has been trying to raise honeybees for three years, with not the best success until recently.
He oversees the bee hives at Dayempur Farm, where the animal has been provided space to grow for 15 years, since the founder went into a wooded area and discovered some. The farm sells various natural products, but has no plans to add honey to that mix, Fletter said.
“We’re still building our apiary,” Fletter said. “We want to make sure the bees have enough honey to live.”
The farm raises the honeybees to help with the pollination of the crops they raise and to provide a little bit of a natural sweetener, he said. They are also interested in providing a service to the world by creating a safe place for the bees to live.
At Dayempur, several multicolored hive boxes rest in the back edge of a yard, a handful of bees quietly hovering near edges of some of the hives.
Fletter demonstrates what one of them, a top base hive, looks like on the inside. Using pieces of paper, he started a small fire that he stuffed with cedar chippings to create a smoke that he said would calms the hundreds of bees inside the box, once its top lid was removed.
He pulls out about five of the tracks, many covered with dozens of bees, crawling over each other or their bodies half tucked into the empty slots of the honeycomb or flying away. He showed off the honey the bees had produced and identified the queen bee in one of the tracks.
In the nearly two and a half hours that he handles the bees, he is strung once by a bee that was resting on his cream golden yellow T-shirt with bees on it. He calls bees that sting “Kamikaze bees,” saying they sting to protect the nest, but soon die.
Hoping to empower, encourage other beekeepers
“I kept bees for about three years and just kind of struggled with it and watched them die,” he said. “It wasn’t until about that time that I came across some natural methods for allowing bees to essentially develop their own strength as bees, instead of us weakening them. So I feel like the information that we’re going to share about bee-keeping and to share about the health of the bees, is extremely valuable.”
“We all know and love honeybees,” he said. “Honeybees have kind of become an indicator species for us. When the honeybees are struggling, when they are challenged … we might be struggling as well.”
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