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Bee enthusiasts gather in Chiefland

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

There’s a new gang in town. And while some of its members have made the ‘A’ list, they’re all on the ‘bee’ list.
The Levy County Beekeepers Association was formed last week in Chiefland. About a dozen local residents came to the club’s first meeting where officers were appointed and membership dues, $20 per member, were collected.
“We want to train you to become beekeepers, if you want,” said association co-founder and president Byron Teerlink. The association aims to educate people and provide a means for obtaining bees and beekeeper supplies.
Teerlink, who started beekeeping with three hives, got involved with the winged creatures a few years ago when he wanted to improve yields from his garden. Now, he’s got 40 hives, and he knows today’s beekeepers face a lot of challenges.
“The biggest problem with bees is the beekeeper. I’ve killed a few bees. To get involved, you really need a mentor,” said Teerlink, a Chiefland business owner.
Chappie McChesney, the other founder of the group, said one of the biggest challenges, besides  a new beekeeper’s inexperience, is dealing with parasites, especially a bee-killing bloodsucker known as the varroa mite. The pest is the No. 1 killer of honeybees.
Anywhere from 30 to 90 percent of the world’s honeybees are disappearing, McChesney said. “Nobody knows why.” Some blame it on mites, others attribute the loss to Colony Collapse Dissorder, a phenomenon not fully understood by scientists.
“I prefer to call it Honeybee Stress Disorder,” he said, “because our bees are so stressed.”
McChesney, who also founded the Alachua County Beekeepers Club and the Dixie County Beekeepers Association, said the disorder mostly affects bees that are transported across the country to be used to help pollinate various crops. “It’s not good for the bees,” he said. “Local beekeepers don’t have that problem.”
There’s also a species of beetle that can be problematic, though there are effective beetle traps on the market, he said. And bull ants can destroy a hive, as well. McChesney said hive boxes need to be raised off the ground to deter the ants.
Africanized bees, hybridizing with honeybees, might also be an issue in a few years, he said. Africanized bees, noted for their especially aggressive nature, have yet to make it as far north as Levy County, though he said they could be here in a couple of years. Healthy European honeybee populations can help keep the Africanized bees at bay.
Another consideration before getting started with honeybees is placement of the hives. Teerlink said you don’t need an especially big yard, though you want to take notice of what’s nearby. If a neighbor or area frequented by people is nearby, installing a fence can help direct swarms up into the air, instead of in to areas where they may become a problem.
Also, honeybees do best when their hives are placed in the sun, according to Teerlink. Certain pests find it easier to get into the hives when they are placed in the shade. And don't worry about the heat, he said. Honey bees are able to keep their hives cool in the summer, as well as warm in the winter.
Teerlink said it's best for new beekeepers to start with at least two hives. Having two helps make it easier to make comparisons when a beekeeper suspects there might be a problem with a hive. The good hive can also be used to strengthen the weak one, he said.
Hive boxes can be purchased for about $100 to $150 each. Three pounds of honeybees, queen included, is enough to establish a hive and usually costs about $100, he said. All together, figuring the cost of other equipment and bee-proof clothing, a beginning beekeeper with two hives can expect to pay $500 to $600.
But it's worth it, McChesney said. Honeybees can improve the productivity of gardens and crops.
Honeybees account for about 80 percent of insect pollination, according to the Backyard Beekeepers Association.
And then there's the honey. McChesney said a hive yields about 100 pounds a year. A 55 gallon drum of wildflower honey sells for about $1,000.
For more information about honeybees or the Levy County Beekeepers Association, contact Chappie McChesney at 386-462-2637, chappiesbees@windstream.net, or Byron Teerlink at 352-493-2216.