DUVALL – Just about everything is affected in this record-setting cold winter, and bees are no exception.
The nation’s honeybee population has been struggling for years. Production has been down, although in Wisconsin it has been up, but this year’s harsh winter is taking its toll here as well.
The problem is serious enough that Midwestern farmers will be able to qualify for part of $3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reseed pastures appealing to both bees and livestock.
While attending school in Georgia, Steve Marcelle’s track and field coach sparked his interest in beekeeping.
“I’m pretty sure, he just wanted free labor, so he invited me out all the time to learn about the bees,” said Marcelle. “I pretty much learned it and fell in love with it.”
Marcelle’s affection also stung his brother Chris and buddy Codi McIntyre. But unlike in Georgia, the trio has a different obstacle to deal with in Wisconsin.
“The winter has been really cold, so they’ve been burning through their honey really fast,” said Marcelle.
Last winter, while still perfecting its craft, the group lost 85% of its hives. This winter, only 23% was lost, 34 of 44 hives are still alive.
“You treat it kind of like a small child, you know, you do everything you can for it no matter what, because it’s not like they can do anything for themselves right now in winter,” said McIntyre.
The guys check on their hives once a week. On days like Friday it’s too cold to look inside, so instead they listen for buzzing to see if the hive is still alive.
“Temperatures approach 90 degrees still, that’s where the queen is and they’ve got to keep the queen alive to make it through the winter,” said Chris Marcelle.
That’s important because a dead hive can cost hundreds of dollars to replace. It also slows down the ability to sell their product, Big Honey.
“It can get costly, that’s for sure,” said Steve Marcelle.
Keeping the bees buzzing also helps neighboring farmers.
“We have pear trees that we’ve had on the farm forever and they stopped blooming ten years ago and the last two years, they’re loaded with pears again,” said McIntyre.
The benefits of the bees are why the Big Honey producers are optimistic farmers will jump at the USDA’s new aid offer.
“I’m going to tell everyone I know, why wouldn’t you tell them about a good break like that, that’s going to help both of us out,” said McIntyre.
It could end up being the shot in the arm the guys need to turn their part-time love, into a full-time gig.
“It’s just a great hobby to be into honestly, it’s sweet,” said McIntyre.
For now, Big Honey is mostly sold online. The group hopes to make it a full-time operation in a few years.