A quiet residential street in South Omaha was literally buzzing Friday and Saturday as local beekeepers swarmed in to claim important new stock arriving from California.
The Omaha Bee Club and its approximately 200 members are as busy as, well, er, bees every spring as they replenish their colonies. The club imported nearly 3 million honey bees to balance an annual death rate that has become of increasing concern over the past 10 years.
“We’re losing them at a very high rate,” said club President Tony Sandoval. “We’re looking at 70 percent die-outs for this winter in Nebraska and 69 percent in Iowa.”
The big problem is the extreme weather of Nebraska and Iowa, Sandoval said, but Varroa mites and pesticides also are weakening bee colonies. Until about 2006, local beekeepers lost only 15 to 20 percent of their swarms during the winter, he said.
“There has been a lot of talk in the media about colony collapse disorder ... just a lot of mismanaged information. A lot of that is sensationalized. We don’t get colony collapse disorder in the Midwest. That’s more of a national problem.”
Colony collapse disorder is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a honey bee colony abruptly disappear.
Lynn Danzer of Council Bluffs has been keeping bees for 46 years. He was at a club member’s residence near 56th and V Streets on Friday to help distribute 59 queen bee packages, each containing about 10,000 bees.
Each package contained a Carniolan queen honey bee in a separate compartment. Danzer said the Carniolan line is “a hardier bee” that club members hope avoid large winter die offs.
The Carniolan honey bee — a subspecies of the western honey bee — is native to Slovenia, southern Austria, and parts of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. It now is one of the most popular varieties, Danzer said.
“I started way back when I was 14 years old, and the die-off wasn’t so bad,” Danzer said. “The bees were hardier because they had developed in the area. We’re trying to get back to that.”
Each queen bee package is inserted into a hive by a beekeeper. The queen will remain in her compartment until the other bees have grown to accept her. Then they will free her by eating through a wad of candy at the bottom of her cage.
Sandoval, Danzer, Gary Kula and Bob Loghry of the Omaha Bee Club handed out the queen bee packages without need of any special clothing, even as some “hitchhiking bees” buzzed around them.
Without a hive or honey to defend, the bees are very docile, Kula said.
“These deliveries will go pretty fast today,” Kula said. “Once people start arriving they will take two, three or four queen packages and get them home to their hives real fast.”
The club accepted a delivery of 2.3 million bees on Saturday at the 56th and V Streets location. Those bees arrived in “nucs” — short for nuclei — of about 20,000 inhabitants each.
Sandoval and his helpers arrived before dawn to tape shut the edges of the hives so the bees didn’t see light and try to escape. Head coverings and gloves were used to handle the hives.
“Today is like Christmas for us,” Kula said. “It’s the start of a whole new season.”
Susan and Curtis McCullough of Omaha arrived in high spirits to claim their shipments of bees. The McCulloughs have been keeping bees for three years and lost all their stock over the winter.
“I was very distressed, but that doesn’t stop us from starting again,” Susan said. “We’re going back to work.”
The McCulloughs live in the Dundee neighborhood but care for five hives on a farm where they plan to retire. Susan McCullough said she was struck by the increase in the size of the fruit on her trees after placing hives nearby.
“The pears have tripled in size,” she said. “I’m looking forward to using the wax (from the hives) this year for candle-making. And the honey ... it’s fabulous.”
Sandoval said he’s seen an uptick in the past couple of years in the number of people learning about bees and their important agricultural role. Club members are always ready to help a rookie keeper, he said.
“We’re seeing more people saying they’re breeding bees more from a conservational standpoint than for the honey,” he said. “My position is the more educated beekeepers you have, the more functional and healthy bees you’re going to have.”
Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan Paul Brulinski of Bellevue is a first-time beekeeper who spent the winter preparing his hive. Brulinski said he’s been interested in bees for a while and became concerned when he heard that colonies were disappearing. “I feel real good about it,” he said as he carried away his queen bee package. “I like doing my part to help out.”
The Omaha Bee Club recommends that anyone interested in the hobby should study about a year before obtaining a hive. The club’s website at www.omahabeeclub.org provides a wealth of information.
“We’re glad to talk with people and let them come with us to see what they could be getting into,” Kula said. “It’s really about helping make successful beekeepers, so they don’t get in over their heads.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-1272, email@example.com