BY KIM LUTTRELL
For David Burns, beekeeping has gone from a hobby to a full-time devotion of beekeeping.
“In 1994, a friend from my church called me and told me he had a tree fall over and it had a swarm of bee in it,” explained Burns. “My friend was a beekeeper and he set up with some equipment to get the bees into a hive.”
From that time on Burns has immersed himself in beekeeping, creating what could be called a “bee farm.” He not only sells honey, but he has also become a grower and seller of queen bees.
“Each bee hive has one queen bee and several thousand worker bees,” said Burns. “There will also be a several drones.”
A drone is a male bee whose only job is to mate with a queen bee. The worker bees are all female.
Once a young queen has mated with between 10-20 drones, she begins to lay eggs in the hive. A queen bee will lay between 1,000 to 3,000 eggs a day.
The worker bees go out and collect nectar from flowers carrying it in a separate stomach back to the hive. The nectar, which is made up of 80 percent water and some complex sugars, is passed to other worker bees that also are called “house” bees. The house bees process the nectar by chewing it for about 30 minutes.
During this chewing process, enzymes from the bees break down the complex sugars into simple sugars and also remove some of the water content. This also makes the nectar more palatable to the bees and prevents it from being attacked by bacteria.
The bees then put this nectar in cells in the honeycomb of the hive and further reduce the water content by fanning it with their wings. It turns it into a thick syrup, which is honey. Once a cell is filled, the bees top it off with beeswax.
On his farm, Burns has about 100 hives from which he harvests the honey he sells.
“We usually harvest the honey weekly from the hives,” Burns said. “Our main harvest season is naturally when the flowers bloom during June, July and August.”
Burns said each harvest brings in about 75-100 pounds of honey. When he collects the honey he said it is important not to remove all of the honey from the hive.
“The bees use the honey for food,” added Burns. “So you have to be careful on how much you remove because you need to leave enough for the bees to feed on.”
Burns has developed a docile swarm of bees.
“There are several species of bees,” Burns said. “The Italian bees are the most docile and that is mainly what I have.”
Burns works without a hat or protective veil around his bees. He said he is unsure if the bees are just that calm or perhaps they know him and trust him.
Not only does Burns raise honey to sell, he also raises queen bees and ships them all over the country.
“When a queen is removed from the hive, the worker bees will instinctively create a new queen bee,” explained Burns. “The worker bees will choose an egg that is 9-12 days old and pack the cell it is in with ‘royal jelly’.”
The royal jelly is an enzyme produce from a gland in the head of what are called nurse bees. This royal jelly will make the bee that is hatched a queen. She will then fly off and mate with the drones and come back to begin laying eggs.
A queen bee will hatch from an egg in about 16 days, a worker bee in 21 days and a drone in 24 days.
Burns then packages the queens into tiny wooden boxes with screening over it with a few worker bees and some beeswax.
“The beeswax is for food and the worker bees are for the queen,” Burns explained. “The queen does nothing but lay eggs, she doesn’t even feed herself.”
Burns ships the queens by UPS overnight.
According to Burns, a queen will lay for about two years while the worker bee only lives about 35 days. He said the constant flapping of their wings causes the wings to tear and the bees just fall to the ground unable to fly.
Dr. Stu Jacobson, retired research specialist from the University of Illinois-Springfield, who taught honey bee management, said Burns has taken a leading role in expanding beekeeping in Illinois.
“I believe David is the only queen producer in Illinois and there only a couple in Indiana,” Jacobson said. “We have a program called the Illinois Queen Initiative and David’s work is part of what the Initiative is about. We want to produce locally grown queens to insure the stability of the bee population here in the Midwest.”
According to Jacobson, the importance of producing locally grown queens is to help prevent the outbreak of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This is the disease, first noticed in 2007, where whole hives of bees disappear.
According to Burns, there has not been a single case of CCD in Illinois, with most of the cases occurring in places like California and Texas.
Burns said he thinks that CCD is a combination of factors such as a mite that infects the bees and stress.
“What is alarming about CCD is that bees are needed to pollinate 80 percent of the food crops in this country,” Burns said.
Burns is so committed to preserving beekeeping that he teaches classes on beekeeping and now sells beekeeping equipment.
Usually every other month he will have a day-long class at his farm teaching people about starting and maintaining a hive. The courses are seven hours long and are held on Saturdays.
Besides selling queen bees and worker bees, Burns carries beekeeping equipment and builds hives.
“We wanted to be able to offer people a one stop place to learn about bees and to be able to get them started,” added Burns.
The beekeeping class taught by David and Sheri Burns will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the Homer Lake Park Forest Preserve. To sign up for the class call (217) 427-2678 or online at http://www.honeybeesonline.com.