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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Where bees go for the winter

By Barry Schrader.................................December 1, 2009

This column might seem out of season, as there are no bees outside collecting nectar from our flowers or orchards, and the honey is all removed now from hives and on store shelves.
But have you ever wondered where the little creatures go for the winter – Florida maybe, or even inside a warm cow barn?
I had meant to find a local beekeeper all summer and write this column earlier, but it took until November to finally make contact with Steve Bock, owner of Honey Hill Orchards near Waterman for the facts I needed. He was all done picking apples during the fall, has closed down the family’s rural barn store and sold all the honey produced this season. So we had time to talk.

Bee keeper Steve Bock poses with his demonstration hive inside the orchard's sales barn

Originally a carpenter by trade, Bock began part-time in the apple business back in the 1960s at the Waterman orchard, then married into the family in 1973. Now he and his wife Kathy are in charge of a 3,000-tree orchard operation and a honey business as an offshoot of the fruit production.
Honey bees are a necessary part of orchards, as they are needed to pollinate and there are not enough left in the wild to do the job. Ideally, it takes one hive (a colony of 30,000 bees) for each acre of apples. Bock has had as many as 25 hives at one time and is now down to 14. Bock said he can invite other beekeepers in the area to bring in their hives, or might have to rent hives from commercial bee producers when the need is the greatest – for about three weeks in the spring.
Each season, Bock's bees can provide about 2,000 pounds of honey, which is sold as natural, raw and unpasteurized.

There is one queen bee in each hive, which can be purchased for between $18 and $25. She will live about three or four years and can lay 2,000 eggs in a day or 3 million or more in a lifetime. The worker bees, on the other hand, can wear out their wings in six weeks of forays out to collect nectar and “work themselves to death” as Bock puts it. But the workers born in the fall often can survive the winter and enjoy a summer of flying and caring for the queen.
During the winter, they lay low in their hives and live on the honey left over from the summer. Bee keepers know they must leave an adequate honey supply in each hive to keep their swarms fed through the colder months, when the bees only venture outside to “cleanse themselves” when temperatures reach the 40s or higher. Typically a hive will drop to 15,000 or 20,000 bees that survive those freezing months. The wooden hives last up to 15 years, Bock said, and now with the introduction of plastic frames and bases the boxes will last even longer.
Raising bees also involves making sure they are kept free of mites and diseases. Bock said mites are the biggest culprits in a hive, especially the varroa and tracheal varieties, which can devastate a colony.
Bock left me with the same message he delivers to the many elementary school classes that tour the orchard each fall. Bees are your friends, and if they disappear, the world’s food supply will diminish by one-fourth to one-third. So, the next time I spot a bee buzzing around our backyard flowers, I will give it plenty of space and time to finish collecting the nectar and pollinating the flowers. Its job is much more important than me picking a few flowers for a vase on the table.

POSTSCRIPT: After reading last week‘s column on the Kishwaukee River, Edward Hinchliff Eggers e-mailed me to clarify that the Kishwaukee’s north and south branches meet near Cherry Valley, but then flow westerly for another 10 miles before emptying into the Rock River, about a mile south of the Rockford Airport. He said if canoeing, one can get out at the Edward Hinchliff Forest Preserve about a block upstream from the mouth of the Kish. Thanks for sharing that, Ed.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115