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Hobby beekeepers gather in drones in Hackensack

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Following a late season snow and cold weather, many hobby beekeepers found themselves at Mann Lake Ltd. in Hackensack on Saturday, May 11, waiting to collect new bee colonies for the summer.

It seems that delayed spring weather taxed the stores of food stored away by honeybee colonies belonging to some beekeepers in the north. As a result, an unusually large number of keepers were forced to purchase brand new bees last Saturday. It was that day that Mann Lake received 1,900 packages of bees.

Pallets of little mesh boxes containing thousands of bees flew out the door at Mann Lake, where 576 customers came to replace the bees they lost during the long winter and bolster their colonies in time for honey season.

To make matters more difficult, honeybees are in high demand this year, and supplies are low. This problem was compounded by a large shipment of bees that recently died in transit.

“Generally, truck drivers team drive and don’t stop except for gas stops and such,” Mann Lake’s Brenda Bray said. “They don’t stop and spend the night. They just keep driving. There was a load where the driver stopped and they lost the entire load of bees.”

This, in combination with Colony Collapse Disorder, has led to a shortage of honeybees so severe that almond farmers in California recently had a hard time locating enough bees to pollinate their almond trees.

Though the shipment of bees was not coming to Mann Lake and there are no almonds in Minnesota, the problem is not limited to California.

“It did put a hurt on us. The commercial beekeepers that supply our bees suffered huge losses,” Bray said.

Though Mann Lake sold an estimated 11,400,000 bees in a single day, this number was down from the orders it had originally expected.

“We had actually (originally) ordered 3-pound packages,” Bray said. “If we were going to accommodate our customers we were forced to take 2-pound packages and reduce the price for our customers.”

This year is very different from last year, when a mild winter and early spring meant more honeybee colonies successfully overwintered. Last year’s bee shipment only contained 800 packages of bees. In a typical year, they will receive more than 800 and less than 1,900.

Because of Minnesota’s short summers, Bray said beekeepers in the state often attempt to start with a large population of bees so they will produce more honey in a shorter amount of time. Furthermore, she said, larger colonies overwinter better because the bigger populations are able to produce more heat.

Mann Lake Ltd. is the biggest beekeeping supplier in the country.

“If anyone is interested in getting started, they can contact us and we’ll point them in the right direction,” Bray said.