Bee hobbyists to help Wisconsin agriculture

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- Area hobbyists are bit by the beekeeping bug, hoping to maintain a hive of their own. A recent spike in the number of hobbyists will actually help Wisconsin’s agriculture.

“60 thousand bees in a hive work as one organism, and it’s fascinating,” says Julie Mazzoleni, Vice President of the Brown County Beekeepers Association.

For Mazzoleni, and her fellow beekeepers, it’s about more than just collecting honey.

“I'm in for beekeeping because I love the bees,” she tells Action 2 News. “It’s very interactive. You really feel like you’re a part of nature, you’re a part of the process.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Wisconsin’s honeybee mortality rate was at 45 percent in 2017, part of a national declining trend seen over the last decade.

With that steady decline in bee population, comes a decline in pollination – something that could mean disaster for Wisconsin farmers.

“Three of Wisconsin's biggest specialty crops rely on bees for pollination,” says Liz Meils, State Apiarist for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. “Without them, our apple growers would lose 80 percent of their crop. Cherry growers would lose 60 percent of their crop, and cranberry growers would lose three-quarters of their crop.”

That’s where hobbyists come into play.

“Our bees are in danger now, so we really need to be active beekeepers. We need to make sure that we're in and monitoring our hives,” Mazzoleni says.

“Most people don’t realize how important the bees do actually mean to the economy,” says Mark Stelzl, Farm and Agriculture Department, Fleet Farm. “Whether it’s just honey that people sell in the local flea markets or in the grocery stores, but people who sell flowers at farmers markets, people who raise vegetables for their own gardens. Without that pollination that bees provide, that source of cross pollination is no longer available.”

Fleet Farm began selling honeybees and starter kits at a limited number of their stores in 2014. Four years later, honeybees are sold at all Fleet Farm stores, after a growing number of people became interested in the hobby.

“It's something that's fun for them to do. They're interactive in working with their bees on a weekly basis, and then also in their second year they can also reap the rewards of having their own pure honey to eat,” Stelzl says.

As long as they’re managing their hives correctly, experts say hobbyist beekeepers are helping our crops, all while reaping something sweet.

“Bees are pollinators. And almost 90 percent of flowers and plants worldwide need bees, or other pollinators, to set seed and reproduce,” Meils says.

Experts say honeybees aren’t the only pollinators that are struggling. Last year, the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee, a native Wisconsin pollinator, was added to the Endangered Species List.

To learn more about pollination protection, click here.

While most hives don’t have much action going on right now – in the near future bees will begin their buzzing.

To get in on the trend, visit your local Fleet Farm. The stores will be selling honeybees until February 28th. A starter kit costs $230, and comes with 10 thousand bees.

If you’re interested in learning some hands-on beekeeping techniques, the Brown County Beekeepers Association is holding an Introduction to Beekeeping course this Saturday. It will be held at the Ashwaubenon Community Center, starting at 9:00 a.m.