Gray skies and a stinging, cold breeze couldn’t keep Sunday from being bee-u-tiful as members of the Omaha Bee Club gathered to welcome a shipment of 200 boxes of bees to replace their losses.
“I’ve just became obsessed with bees and I love it,” said Angie Ruh of Omaha. “This is my second year, and I’ve been taking classes at Metro (Community College) and learning everything I can about how colonies work and build. It’s just so fascinating.”
Ruh said she operated two hives last season, but only one survived the winter. She left most of the honey in her hives to give the bees as much food as possible to survive winter.
“I took just a little bit for myself, hoping to keep the hives strong,” she said. “This year, I’m hoping to have a little for my friends, too.”
About 30 members of the club were on hand in the parking lot of the Kmart at 2803 Kanesville Blvd. in Council Bluffs to pick up packages of bees ordered from Northern California. Some took just one package and others took up to 10 as they replenished stock lost over the harsh winter.
“It’s been hard on the bees because it’s been so cold and wet,” master keeper Lynn Danzer of Council Bluffs said of regional weather patterns. “We haven’t been able to get as many bees as (the members) would like, but that’s just the way it goes.”
Some beekeepers are still waiting for their “nucs” to arrive. A nuc, short for nucleus in the beekeeping world, is basically a small, temporary hive with a couple of frames inside, a queen bee and her worker bees. Nucs tend to be a little more expensive than a package of bees, but they provide a head start when it comes to production.
The boxes that arrived Sunday contained bees that need to be fed until they are introduced into a thriving hive or form their own. The main advantage of Sunday’s type of shipment is it can arrive earlier than nucs, which is great for those who have been waiting all winter long.
The 200-member Omaha Bee Club has grown steadily over the past few years, and master beekeeper Danzer credits that resurgence to a renewed interest in natural foods. New beekeepers are catching the bug for harvesting their own honey after reading articles and watching TV programs about the important role bees play in agriculture, he said.
Alfred Hiltbrunner of Bellevue and his dachshund, Waldi, welcomed one new package of bees for his fourth year of beekeeping. Hiltbrunner grew up on a farm in Switzerland, where his brother still keeps bees.
“My first two years (keeping bees) they all died, but in the third year, they all made it through,” Hiltbrunner said. “I have a big garden and I love nature, so this year I will have three hives instead of two.”
The growing number of hives at the Hiltbrunner home might not sit too well with his 13-year-old dachshund, who was stung twice last year.
“Now when he sees me putting on my beekeeping outfit, he runs in the house,” said Hiltbrunner, who was dressed in street clothes Sunday. “Waldi, he doesn’t like (bees) so much.”
Darwin Baker of Council Bluffs took home 10 packages of bees, three to bolster his five hives and the rest for friends. He would’ve preferred a warmer day to welcome the new arrivals.
“Everyone is happy to get going,” Baker said, now that spring is far enough along. “You have to wait for the weather to be conducive, though. You don’t want to try and force the bees to adapt.”
The general public can help bees — some of nature’s hardest workers — survive by planting flowers that thrive early and late in the year.
“The dandelions in your yard are the first food out there for bees,” Baker said. “Everyone wants to kill them right away, but you should remember they are an important way for bees to get started.”