(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The plight of the honeybees has been gaining a lot of attention as scientists try to figure out what is behind the current trend of colony collapse disorder, which is when adult worker bees disappear from their hives leaving a queen, immature bees and honey behind.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that since 2006, “some beekeepers began reporting losses of 30 to 90 percent of their hives,” which is considered unusually high.
Without a healthy honeybee population, the agriculture industry is in jeopardy.
“Bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honeybee pollination.”
Commercial production of many specialty crops like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables also depend on pollination by honeybees.
The Wild Mitten Honey Bee Co-op, located in West Michigan, wants to do its part to help save the honeybees and has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $4,000 to save six honeybee colonies. The money raised will be used to “purchase boxes and frames and other equipment to give the bees new homes.”
Joshua Kruis, co-founder of Wild Mitten Honey Bee Co-op with Teresa DeJager, said he started a bee removal business last summer and quickly realized he could rescue the honeybee colonies by re-homing them.
“I just fell in love with bees and keeping bees,” he said. “I was getting three to four calls a week for swarms and realized there was an opportunity to save a lot of these bees that were making homes in people’s houses or hanging out in trees around their yards.
“That is why we started the campaign to raise money for the six colonies we’ve collected.”
By purchasing a share in one of the six hives, members receive jars of honey as well as discounts on future honey purchases and are invited to come visit the honeybee colonies twice a month to learn about the bees.
“We’ve named our hives after flowers, so if they purchase a share in the Lavender Hive, then they get a portion of the honey from that hive in the first year and a discount on all future honey purchases in that hive,” Kruis said.
“Basically, we wanted to give people an intimate connection to a specific colony. We give updates throughout the summer on the health of the colony and we give them tips about keeping bees and about beekeeping, in general.”
Kruis said honeybees typically produce between 50 to 120 pounds of honey annually, with some hives producing up to 150 pounds.
“On average, it’s about 80 pounds,” he said. “At end of summer, when you harvest the honey, the bees need about 40 to 50 pounds to get through the winter. My model is set up so there is 40 pounds available for our members from each hive.”
Wild Mitten houses its bees at three different locations: a nature conservancy in Cannon Township, which is where its apiary is and where members are allowed to view the bees; a location in Caledonia; and at DeJager’s home in Rockford. He said current ordinances prevent beekeeping within the city of Grand Rapids.
“Right now, beekeeping is effectively impossible with the ordinances in place,” he said. “I’m getting ready to start a campaign in the next couple of weeks to see how many people are interested in changing the ordinances for beekeeping within city limits.”
Kruis said he will be walking door-to-door in Heritage Hill, Eastown and East Grand Rapids to determine the level of interest in beekeeping and the support for ordinance changes.
He said he thinks there is a lot of interest in keeping bees.
“We’d like to get the ordinances changed so more people can keep bees in the city,” he said.
Kruis, who has a background in video production, is also creating a video series to show off his work and that of other area beekeepers.
“We’ve been filming a bunch of our jobs,” he said. “The long-term goal is to get out and film other beekeepers and meet all the different characters within the beekeeping community.”
He hopes the video series, called “Adventures in Beekeeping,” will encourage people “to be conscious of our connection to bees.”
He said the series will be available on YouTube, the co-op website and other social media channels.
Kruis continues to offer hive removal services, as well, and not just honeybee hives. He removes any type of bees.
“Last summer I did 80 yellow-jacket removals and five honeybee removals,” he said. “Another common one is the bald-faced hornet. They build hives in trees and bushes, big paper comb-shaped nests. I did about 10 to 12 of those. But yellow jackets are the most common.”
Kruis said there are two main ways to remove hives from homes. One is called “cutting out” and involves vacuuming out the bees and cutting out the combs. The other is called a “trap-out,” which involves setting up a hive box in which bees can relocate.
“It takes a longer time because basically you set up a hive box outside their entrance and then minimize the entrance. That way when they come back from foraging, they can’t get back into the colony and have to transition and start building in the box. After six to seven weeks, the whole colony will fully transition into building in that box.”
Since the cutout process can be traumatic for the bees, Kruis said he prefers to do trap-out removals and will be doing those exclusively for honeybees unless circumstances make a cutout necessary.
Kruis said he’s surprised by people’s interest in having hives removed safely and without killing the honeybees.
“One of the motivations behind starting the honey co-op is partly because of the situation the bees are facing right now and wanting to give people an opportunity to feel like they can be a solution to the problem,” he said.
“I realized a lot of my customers last summer and this spring have been really concerned about it and are willing to pay me to remove the hives safely and keep the bees alive.”
While he has also tried to re-home yellow-jacket colonies, he said it is much harder because they are not as gentle as honeybees and are much more likely to become agitated and attack.
“You can’t really keep the yellow jackets alive because of how they build their nests,” he said. “They can be hard to access, and it means getting stung a lot.
“I’ve been working on ways to transition them out, but oftentimes yellow jackets, especially in July and August, are really working hard stocking up for winter. I’ve had jobs where they’ve eaten through the drywall and are getting into homes. I just have to act fast to get them out of there.”
Kruis said his fee for removal is dependent on the type of bee and the work involved.
“If I’m doing a cut-out or a trap-out, I generally charge around $400,” he said. “For yellow jackets, I charge an hourly rate: $150 for the first hour and $25 for every half-hour after that.”