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National speaker encourages ‘bee fever’

By Debbie Balzotti - Correspondent - | Apr 21, 2013
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Three generations of Bergers, Terry, left, Brett, center, and Ryan, 12, right, inspect the beehive that Terry Berger keeps in the backyard of his Springville home on Friday, April 19, 2013. About three years ago, Terry and his son Brett started beekeeping, and Ryan, Brett's son, soon joined. Now it's an activity they all like to do together. SARAH WEISER/Daily Herald

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Terry Berger, left, and his son Brett Berger, right, do a regular inspection of the beehive that Terry Berger keeps in the backyard of his Springville home on Friday, April 19, 2013. About three years ago, the father and son started beekeeping, and Ryan, Brett's 12-year-old son, soon joined. Now it's an activity they all like to do together. SARAH WEISER/Daily Herald

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Ryan Berger, 12, right, holds up a frame with bees as his grandfather, Terry Berger, left, looks on, during their inspection of the hive that Terry Berger keeps in the backyard of his Springville home on Friday, April 19, 2013. About three years ago, Terry and his son Brett started beekeeping, and Ryan, Brett's son, soon joined. Now it's an activity they all like to do together. SARAH WEISER/Daily Herald

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Three generations of Bergers, Ryan, 12, left, Brett, center, and Terry, right, stand for a portrait in the backyard of Terry Berger's Springville home on Friday, April 19, 2013. About three years ago, Terry and his son Brett started beekeeping, and Ryan, Brett's son, soon joined. Now it's an activity they all like to do together. SARAH WEISER/Daily Herald

Beekeepers understand the symptoms of “bee fever” as those who suffer from an obsession with bees call it. It starts as a mild case of curiosity, but quickly develops into a commitment of time, money and more time.

Mark Gotberg is a fairly typical example of someone who wants to start the beekeeping hobby.

“I first got interested because I saw a lack of bees in my garden and fruit trees,” said Gotberg. “I bought two hives, talked to a couple beekeepers and looked at information online. I then joined the Utah County Beekeepers Association and started coming to their club meetings. All my bees died but talking to others I found out that a lot of beekeepers lost hives this winter. I feel better now because I felt like a failure when that happened, even though I did have more raspberries and other produce, I felt worried that I might have been the cause of those bees dying. I may have contributed because I was so fascinated and kept poking my nose into their hive.”

Gotberg was one of the 120 audience members at a day of instruction by national beekeeping expert and author, Michael Bush, who flew in from Nebraska. The event — sponsored by the Utah County Beekeepers Association — was held Saturday at the Utah County Health and Justice Building in Provo.

Bush started with two hives in the mid 1970s and now has more than 200 hives. He spoke on useful topics including natural beekeeping, swarm control and queen rearing. His successful experimentation with pesticide-free solutions to the deadly Varroa, an external parasitic mite that attacks honey bees, and his passion and concern for bee populations have made him a popular speaker.

“I’ve had lots of hobbies over the last 40 years, but beekeeping is the one that has kept my interest,” said Bush. “As soon as I felt like I had learned what I could about other hobbies, I would lose momentum. Bees will always give you a sense of learning and a desire to get better and better at what you are doing. Many writers have called this ‘bee fever.’ “

Bush is known for his ability to share common sense content with detail and depth during his PowerPoint presentations. He spoke to a sold-out crowd of beekeepers who came to hear about his natural solutions to keeping bees alive.

“In the late 1990s, we left the golden age of bee keeping where we could place our hive and the bees would do what they do without much help from us,” explained Bush. “When I lost all of my bees due to Varroa, I thought maybe it was just a bad winter, or actually it’s the fall before where weather would be the problem. When we found out what was happening, I couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t using a pesticide to kill the mite that carried the disease. It didn’t seem like a good idea to have pesticides in a food source area so I started researching a more natural idea.”

What Bush discovered, was research done in the late 1800s by a Belgian scientist, could offer a solution to the current problem. By letting the bees build a wax shelf instead of using an embossed wax sheet treated with pesticides, bees would eventually build their own comb with larger cells.

“Larger cells produce larger bees, which are stronger and more able to survive to put it simply,” he said. “There are many other factors involved with making larger cells too — which are hollow tubes capped by the bees where the larvae grows. The bees will work it out if we do things right. We need more bees and we want them to be healthy.”

Charles Sigler, a veteran beekeeper and one of four bee inspectors in Utah County, agreed with Bush. Part of his job as an inspector is to help identify problems for local beekeepers.

“Basically if you have a problem like American Foul Brood, which is a bacterial infection pandemic in the United States, I can help watch for the disease,” said Sigler. “I can also look for mites and even help with licensing requirements.”

Anyone interested in placing beehives in Utah needs to have a state license. The cost depends on the number of hives, but is very inexpensive according to Sam Wimpfheimer, President of the Utah County Beekeepers Association.

“Many people don’t know that they need to have a license to keep bees in Utah and every city has different regulations. Those are some of the things they can learn about in our club,” said Wimpfheimer. “It’s also a place to get together with other beekeepers once a month and learn about what is happening in their area. This year there was a shortage of bees here because of the heat and drought. Many of our bees went into the fall weak and didn’t survive because they didn’t have the food they needed.”

For more information on beekeeping, or for those interested in catching “bee fever,” visit the Utah County Beekeepers Association website at www.utahcountybeekeepers.org.

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