Manhattan beekeeper John Kiefner transfers about 40,000 imported honeybees into his colonies. Beekeepers throughout the Southland had most of their colonies die from the extreme winter weather. | Erin Gallagher~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 12, 2014 6:13AM
Southlanders who consume a daily dose of locally produced honey in hopes of combating allergies may have a tough time finding it.
The record cold temperatures that blitzed the area wreaked havoc on honeybee colonies throughout the Southland. Beekeepers are trucking in millions of bees from California because nearly all of the area colonies were wiped out.
“Most beekeepers have lost at least 75 percent,” said Manhattan farmer John Kiefner, a board member of the Will County Beekeepers Association, which has 120 members. “It was just brutal cold.”
Kiefner has been keeping bees for five years. Like many, he lost all of his colonies over the winter. In his case, that was 12 colonies.
In an April 28 shipment, the Will County Beekeepers Association imported more than 400 3-pound packages of bees. With 10,000 bees in each package, that comes to more than 4 million bees.
The cost was about $40,000, according to Andy Koning, a beekeeper from Homer Glen.
Koning, who organized the shipment, said bees are imported to the area every week.
The pollination “service” that honeybees provide is not as critical to Illinois agriculture as in other states, according to association president Darien Kruss. Here, farmers primarily grow corn and soybeans, which need very little or no pollination. Hay crops, however, do benefit from honeybees.
States with more fruit trees — such as Washington, Michigan and Florida — need more honeybees. About a third of locally grown fruits and vegetables need to be pollinated, Kiefner said.
The critical threat to Illinois honeybees doesn’t pertain to their numbers but to the genetics, Kruss said. Bees supplied from either California or Georgia are not accustomed to Midwest winters.
“Queens that survived need to be protected,” Kruss said.
“The queen will lay at least a thousand eggs a day, and that’s what’s going to build the hive to about 60,000 bees,” Kiefner said.
Honey also is in short supply. Koning said he has none to sell and doesn’t expect to have any until August.
Like Kiefner, Koning lost all of his colonies.
Many customers say local honey combats local allergies. And young children who are not old enough to take cough medicine sometimes are able to soothe a sore throat with a bit of natural honey.
“There are some remarkable properties within the honey itself,” Will County Farm Bureau manager Mark Schneidewind said.
The Will County Beekeepers Association was formed in 2011, according to its website.
For more information, visit www.willbees.org.