2018-05-31 / Life in Leelanau

Apiarists optimistic as growing season starts

By Jen Murphy
Of The Enterprise staff


POLLINATOR POWER. Sarah and Phil Hallstedt have 40 hives of bees working hard pollinating about 25 acres of cherry trees at Hallstedt Homestead. The bees on their farm are provided by Julius Kolarik. POLLINATOR POWER. Sarah and Phil Hallstedt have 40 hives of bees working hard pollinating about 25 acres of cherry trees at Hallstedt Homestead. The bees on their farm are provided by Julius Kolarik. Happy bees mean happy trees.

Essential to the pollination process and fruit production, the work performed by honey bees can make or break Leelanau County orchards. Fortunately, this season is starting strong for the powerful pollinators.

Nikki Rothwell, coordinator at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center, said hive strengths have been good.

“Bees have had great pollinating weather this year. They love warm and sunshine,” she said. “I have heard that bees were not super strong in the southern part of the state, but growers have been happy with our bees.”

Like some Leelanau County residents, some bees get to fly south for the winter. And according to two Leelanau County beekeepers, the winter season seemed to be pleasant for the bees who traveled.


SWARM SAVING. Area swarm catcher Garth Ward stands by his specially-outfitted rig. Ward removes swarms of bees from around the Grand Traverse region. SWARM SAVING. Area swarm catcher Garth Ward stands by his specially-outfitted rig. Ward removes swarms of bees from around the Grand Traverse region. Andrew Jelinek, owner of Jelinek Apiaries, wintered his hives in Georgia before shipping them out west to California.

“We did pretty good,” he said. “From last year, we might have lost 8 percent.” Starting out this year, Jelinek said he has about 1,300 hives.

According to the 12th annual survey of managed honey bee colony losses in the United States by the Bee Informed Partnership, an estimated 30.7 percent of managed colonies were lost during the 2017-18 winter. This number is just shy of 10 percent higher than last year.

However, now that blooms are bursting, things are looking up for Leelanau bees. “It’s a late spring, but we have had some fantastic weather,” Jelinek said. “That’s helped out. There’s lots of nectar, and the dandelions are out.”

Julius Kolarik, a beekeeper in Northport, also ships some 500 hives of bees south for the winter.

And now that they’re back home, he said they are doing well.

“So far, with the weather and all the acres of bloom, they’re doing very good.

“They love this hot weather,” he said. “The hives are getting heavy.” That’s a good sign. It means the bees are filling comb with honey. And when he said heavy, he means heavy. A full super (a smaller box on the top of the a hive designed to collect honey) can weigh about 50 pounds.

As the bees finish their work pollinating trees in the orchard, the hives are gathered together into “yards,” which is Kolarik’s primary focus now.

“Right now, we’re trying to get them out of the orchards and into the yards,” he said. But that’s been a difficult job. Kolarik said the bees are flying all the time — even at night — with the bright, sunny days and the cloudless, moon-filled night skies.

Both Kolarik and Jelinek provide hives for local farms and orchards. According to Jelinek, the going rate is $70 per hive to pollinate cherries in Leelanau County.

So what are the two beekeepers doing to keep their hives alive and thriving?

Despite the ideal weather so far this growing season, varroa mites are perhaps the largest problem for bees, according to Kolarik. These parasites attack honey bees and the brood laid by the queen, resulting in a weakened hive that cannot sustain itself.

Jelinek agreed with Kolarik’s sentiments about mites.

“There’s always re-queening,” said Jelinek. “And keeping the mite count low. We’ve been winning lately. But it’s hard to tell how summer’s going to go.”

If hives are thriving, bees will swarm to create additional colonies. While this activity is a positive sign of overall bee health, it creates problems for beekeepers.

And it can sometimes cause concern for an onlooker. However, the dark “ball” or mass of bees, usually hanging from the branch of a tree, is fairly harmless as the bees are most concerned with protecting the queen by staying clustered around her.

What can you do if you see a swarm?

Garth Ward, regional swarm catcher and member of Grand Traverse Beekeeping Club, said it’s important to stay calm, not spray anything on them and call a local beekeeper to catch the swarm and bring it back home.

Ward drives the “Swarm 1” — a bright yellow SUV that’s decked out to transport swarms he collects.

“Swarm season” is at its height from now until the end of June.

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