Bees for the backyard: Beekeeper gives bee care advice at library

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette President of the Copper Country Beekeepers David Wiitanen explains the ins and outs of beekeeping to potential hive owners.  

HOUGHTON — Bees are an essential part of life as we know it. Thus, dozens of concerned citizens gathered at the library on Monday to learn about how keeping bees can help the planet. Or they could have been there for the honey.

Long time hobbyist beekeeper and president of the Copper Country Beekeepers David Wiitanen presented a crash course in bee care and ownership to the Keweenaw Garden Club and interested members of the public. The retired Wiitanen has more than 138 hives and sells his honey around the peninsula. He addressed bee varieties, techniques, bee-friendly plants and brought up surprising facts.

“Local honey is good for you if you have allergies. The pollen that remains in the honey, your body will start to build an immunity to some of those properties… It’s important to know where your honey comes from,” Wiitanen said.

Bee ownership can have other unexpected benefits, though the initial cost of starting hives can be a little expensive, they provide more than just honey. Bees create wax, pollinate and improve crop yields. In fact, nearby farmers have noticed a difference in their produce because of Wiitanen’s hives. Bees do not require land to raise, though Wiitanen recommends those in town check with their neighbors first.

In his crash course, Wiitanen explained the structure of a beehive. Consisting of the female worker bees, male breeding drones and the heart of the hive, the egg-laying queen. The beehive must maintain a delicate balance to remain healthy. With too many bees half of the hive will “swarm,” leaving to form a new hive. With too few bees there are not enough bees vibrating their wings to maintain heat in winter. This balance includes dealing with pests. Any future beekeepers will need to primarily watch for mites as these tiny insects are the number one killer of hives.

“When you work with hives you should have two hives minimum and the reason being, you can compare one hive against the other,” Wiitanen said.

Starting beekeeping is learning process, Wittanen said. There is a lot of information to learn and trial and error is a part of starting out.

“There is so much information out there and not everyone knows what to do and how to go about it,” Wittanen said. “You can’t let these little bugs intimidate you.”