Hard work, honey of Utah teen beekeepers vanish
SALT LAKE CITY — A pair of brothers who hope beekeeping will help pay for Mormon missions and college degrees has had their hives go missing.
Bryce Bunderson, 15, said he drove an hour with his dad last week for a routine check of the hives and found someone had emptied their flats housing 60,000 bees.
He had planned to extract about 30 pounds of honey next week at the height of the season.
“It’s just kind of like an ‘oh crap’ feeling,” Bunderson said Thursday. “All your work is just gone in an instant.”
Bunderson said he initially suspected the bees had fallen victim to wayward crop dusting but instead found someone had removed the hives and replaced them with empty flats.
The family called a bee inspector and Layton police, who said Friday that no suspects had been identified.
Bunderson, a sophomore at Bear River High School, says the theft cost the brothers about $12,000, which includes hundreds of pounds of honey, the cost of replacing hives, and potential earnings from taking the bees to pollinate orchards in California.
His brother Tate Bunderson, 19, is serving a mission in Tennessee. Mormon missions cost families $400 a month, and the brothers had planned to trade off the beekeeping duties when Bryce begins his mission in a few years.
In the meantime, Bryce and his dad Jim Bunderson are mowing lawns to cover the loss. The brothers, in their sixth year of beekeeping, sell honey to family members and friends, putting earnings back into their business.
Their hives bordered a road, making them a convenient target for thieves, Bryce Bunderson said. The site bordered a field owned by Slide Ridge, a company with flats farther from the road that were mostly unaffected.
Supporters are volunteering to help the brothers. The Wasatch Beekeepers Association is asking members to donate honey to the teens, and the Lion House Pantry is serving up hot rolls with honey for anyone who makes a donation to the brothers.
The theft was a new problem for the family that says they have heard of an uptick in California bee rustling as federal officials say colony collapse disorder is destroying bee populations nationwide at a rate of about 30 percent a year.
No one has determined its cause, but researchers point to a combination of factors, including pesticide contamination, poor nutrition and diseases.
The ordeal has not soured the family on honey, Jim Bunderson noted.
“We just like to eat it raw on your toast, especially on scones,” he said. “Fresh hot scones and fresh honey, oh– it’s the best.”