The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 15, 2013

Saving honeybees, one hive at a time

WICHITA, Kan. — On a 102-degree afternoon here, Bill Vinduska pulled on his beekeeper suit and raised himself 25 feet in a hydraulic lift, to the eaves under the clubhouse roof at L.W. Clapp Municipal Golf Course.

When you’re trying to help save the world, you sometimes get stung, and sweaty. “There are days I just don’t want to do this anymore,” Vinduska said.

Vinduska would sweat for the next four hours.

To slip into the suit, he’d taken off his shirt, exposing the tattoos: a heavy-link chain encircling his neck. Inside the loop, on Vinduska’s chest, lies a red heart wrapped in thorns. It was about 120 degrees under the eaves.

The tats, the shaved head, sweatband and long beard may look formidable and off-putting, but Kansas bee people say Vinduska is one of the better mentors around — hard-working, respectful and smart.

And they say he’s one of the few people trying to save the honeybees rather than one of the many killing them off.

If he does help save them, they say, he may end up saving all of us too.

We are killing off the honeybee, bee people say. We do so at our own great peril.

Randy Verhoek, the Texan who leads the American Honey Producers Association as president, said, “The losses we are suffering are simply not sustainable.”

Beekeepers, who truck billions of bees all over the country to pollinate our fruits, nuts and vegetables, have lost nearly 40 percent of their hives each summer in recent years, Verhoek said, a catastrophic loss. Bees are dying in the wild, too.

Jerry Brown, a third-generation beekeeper in Haddam, Kan., used to manage 4,000 hives, but he’s down to 600, mostly because of colony collapse disorder. Verhoek manages 20,000 hives, and with 50,000 or so bees in every hive, that means he owns a billion bees. He loses millions of them every year.

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