CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – Swarm season is in full swing. But bee populations have been declining, and Rachel Coventry, a beekeeper at Curtis Orchard, said those pollinators are crucial.
“Every year, we experience some losses. I talked to a lot of beekeepers in the area and their losses differ from year to year,” Coventry said.
She said we rely on pollinators for about a third of all our food. Luckily, there are amateur beekeepers.
“More hobby beekeepers [are] especially keeping the small hives that aren’t moving from farm to farm which are more susceptible to pests and diseases,” she said.
Swarms happen when a hive gets overcrowded, and part of the population splits and finds a new location to build a hive. It’s unlikely you’d ever stumble upon one in your yard, but it can be costly if those bees build a hive somewhere in your house. So if you ever see one…
“If you can get them to home in a removable Langstroth hive like you see behind me, then that’s going to be better for the bees and better for all of us too because they can keep being good pollinators,” Coventry said.
But, you probably shouldn’t try this at home. Instead of interacting with a swarm by yourself, it’s important to call a trained beekeeper professional with the proper safety equipment. First, they’ll dress head-to-toe in protective gear. Then, they’ll brush the swarm right into a box, or suck them up wiith a special bee vacuum. Soon enough, they’ll BEE on their way.
Safety one reason only beekeepers should handle swarms. There’s also…
“Helping the environment. My friends would call me kind-of granola,” amateur beekeeper Melissa Whittall said.
At first, she thought it would be a fun way to care for the earth. She connected with other beekeepers and spent hours learning about it on YouTube. Now, she has three hives of her own, named Queen Latifah, Freddie Mercury and Rupaul.
“There’s kind-of a running joke that making money off of beehives is really not feasible,” Whittall said.
For hobbyists and experts alike, they all see something magical in the little critters.
“It’s like your own magic school bus. You’re not being shrunk down but you get to see the little things that happen with an insect. There’s nothing else that gets managed quite the same way,” Coventry said.
She said the recent cold, rainy weather means many beekeepers haven’t been able to check on their hives, so we may see more swarms this summer. If you find one, she suggests taking plenty of photos and sharing them online to help local experts identify the type of bee you’re dealing with. Groups like the Eastern Illinois Beekeeping Association can help connect you with an expert, or give you more information if you’re interested in beekeeping.
Whittall said an important resource for farmers and beekeepers is a site called DriftWatch. It allows them to communicate so beekeepers can protect their hives from pesticides.