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Friday, 15 January 2016 10:36

Beekeepers lobby for expanded opportunities within city limits

Written by  Lynn Greene
Rick Sallmann heads back to his truck after checking some of his beehives in the town of Delavan last week. Sallmann, a longtime beekeeper, is helping to educate local government officials and residents about the benefits of beekeeping, even within city limits. Rick Sallmann heads back to his truck after checking some of his beehives in the town of Delavan last week. Sallmann, a longtime beekeeper, is helping to educate local government officials and residents about the benefits of beekeeping, even within city limits. Terry Mayer

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- We humans could learn a lot from honeybees. The honeybee hive is a tight-knit society of individual bees devoted to the greater good. But while entomologist E.O. Wilson claims bees are “humanity’s greatest friend,” humanity has not been a good friend to the honeybee.

But now, thanks to a change in a Delavan city ordinance, honeybees once again can be kept in the city and beekeeping advocates are hoping the trend will spread throughout Walworth County.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 75 percent to 80 percent of the world’s food crops require pollination and the honeybee is directly responsible for 30 percent of that. Pollination is necessary for the plant to reproduce.

Yet we have endangered the honeybee colonies with loss of habitat and overuse of pesticides and herbicides, which kill the honeybee. Extensive use of commercial pollination operations -- concentrated colonies with large numbers of honeybees that are transported to pollinate specific crops -- has introduced pathogens and parasites such as mites into the population. These problems have all played some part in Colony Collapse Disorder, which leaves entire hives devastated and the honeybees dead.

No one has to convince Delavan resident Rick Sallmann that bees are a vital resource. He has more than 30 years of experience with bees, including keeping 15 hives that produce honey for his business, Sunnyfield Farm Honey.

Sallmann and fellow Delavan resident Dona Palmer teamed up to change a 1988 city ordinance that prohibited beekeeping within city limits. The ordinance declared bees a public nuisance and a threat to public health and safety.

“It took a bit of education and once people learn more about it, the fear is gone,” Sallmann said, adding that there were no objections from the Delavan City Council to changing the ordinance.

Alderman Ron Henriott said he thought there should be a way to accommodate beekeepers in the city.

“The ban was put in place years ago when there was a problem when a new resident moved near where bees where being kept,” Henriott said. “But people come and go and now we have people who want to keep bees and we should be able to work this out. There’s a limit to how many --they can have two hives and there may be places where they can’t have them. Rick said he’ll help monitor the situation, see how people are doing.” 

For more information on raising bees in the city of Delavan, contact city hall.

Palmer hopes to be one of Delavan’s new beekeepers. She’s attending a beekeeping class this winter and is looking forward to working with Sallmann as her mentor.

“He’s very knowledgeable,” Palmer said. “The average hive has the ability to overwinter maybe 50 percent of the time, but he didn’t lose any (of his hives) last winter. He really knows what he’s doing.”

Even though most communities in Walworth County don’t have an ordinance one way or another limiting or allowing beekeeping, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s allowed before establishing a hive. To that end, Sallmann is working with Elkhorn city officials to ensure that residents will be able to keep bees.

“In most cases, it’s more a matter of education,” Sallmann said.

Education and research are what prompted Palmer to consider beekeeping. She heard about colony collapse and had to learn more.

“I needed to raise my awareness of the problem,” Palmer said. “I read two books -- ‘This Changes Everything,’ by Naomi Klein and ‘Bee Time,’ by Mark Winston -- and they were life changing.”

Klein writes about climate change, its causes and consequences. Winston reflects on three decades spent studying the honeybee. Their populations are diminishing due to human impact, he reports. 

“The bees are in trouble and it’s not something that should be taken lightly,” said Sallmann, who is a member of the Walworth County Beekeepers Club.

Sallmann’s education efforts include an annual honeybee display at the Walworth County Fair in Elkhorn.

“Most people are very interested in learning more. It (the display) always attracts a lot of attention,” Sallmann said.

It’s fitting, perhaps, that the display is located in the Kiddieland section of the fair because kids are more likely to be at the forefront of changing ideas on the environment.

According to research published on Questia, an online research journal, “Environmental awareness education is most effective on younger preadolescent children who do not have well-established environmental habits.”

Furthermore, the research shows that “a more hands-on experiential approach may be more effective in changing attitudes and behaviors than a primarily knowledge-based presentation.”

The University of Wisconsin-Extension is facilitating a program geared toward teaching children the importance of native pollinators.

Native pollinators, unlike honeybees, generally are solitary in nature, meaning they do not live in large colonies. Wisconsin is home to more than 400 different pollinators, which includes bees, moths, beetles, butterflies, flies, wasps and hummingbirds, but of this group, the native solitary bees are the most important.

Bumblebees, the blue orchard bee, miner bees, mason bees and leafcutter all are getting more attention lately because of the colony collapse in honeybees. Bumblebees also have declined in numbers.

But there are measures people can take to help maintain the bee population.

“Local populations of all types of bees can be supported by cultivating flowering plants, providing nesting sites and eliminating the use of pesticides,” according to the UW-Extension.

Children are encouraged to help the pollinators by building bee hotels, which are nesting sites that will ensure the next generation of pollinators. Teachers are asked to register their classrooms with Walworth County UW-Extension horticulture educator Christine Wen.

Greg Kostechka, principal of Lakeland School in Elkhorn, had no idea what a bee hotel was until he got one for Christmas. It was serendipity at work. His school will be one of those participating in the bee hotel project.

Bee hotels “are structures that provide our native solitary pollinators nesting habitat. They can be constructed from many cheap and easily available materials, many of which can be found right outside,” according to the project outline.

According to Wen, the reason for the decline in native pollinators, like the honeybee, is loss of habitat.

“The more lawn and turf we have, the less we have for the pollinators,” Wen said. “They nest in hollow tubing, like old grasses and branches.”

The problem is, most people see what is a natural habitat for pollinators as an ugly blight on their landscape and they clean it up.

Wen and master gardener volunteers are available to the schools to get them started on the bee hotels.

“The vision is to start reversing the decline in pollinators,” Wen said. “We want to build this project into the curriculum and then extend that to include Farm Technology Days in July.”

The hotels will be showcased at Farm Technology Days, a statewide event slated for July 19 through July 21 in the town of Linn. Then the hotels will be returned to the schools to be placed in parks or elsewhere.

Palmer, a retired teacher from Reek School in the town of Linn, is as excited as a kid to learn about honeybees.

“I want to experience the whole thing,” Palmer said.

Between children building bee hotels, the Walworth County Beekeepers encouraging more people to keep bees and communities allowing them to do so, the flight of the bumblebee -- and the honeybee -- will continue.

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