Organic Consumers Association

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OCA's Save the Bees Campaign

Answer to Bee Crisis: Amateur Beekeepers?

FENTON — Beekeeping has been dubbed "farming for intellectuals." The layered hives, the sociology of the insects and their intriguing life patterns have long provided an obsession for anyone disposed to backyard science.

But these days, beekeeping hobbyists may be more than just enthusiasts with funny netted hats. They could provide a vital link in replenishing the world's disappearing bees and the estimated $15 billion in crops that depend on them.

On Saturday, the Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association hosted its second workshop for beekeepers. It drew nearly 300 people, up from about 200 last year.

"I think the word is getting out about the joy of beekeeping," said Robert Sears, the association's president, "and the importance of bees in nature."

Dozens of budding beekeepers sat in the Raymond E. Maritz Theater, learning about where to place their hives, how to handle the frames inside, how to analyze "honest industry" or determine when their colony has become demoralized. In another room, more experienced beekeepers — those who attended last year's workshop — got into the deeper intricacies of beekeeping.

Last year these backyard beekeepers added 150 hives to the area, with an estimated 7.5 million bees. This year, with the new beekeepers and the expanding colonies from last year's efforts, the numbers should go up significantly.

It's these backyard hives, some experts believe, that could provide reservoirs of healthy bees to bolster commercial populations, the disappearance of which has become a worsening crisis.

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