LAKE FOREST — Bees are responsible for a third of the food people eat being on the table and their population has been in a nosedive for the last 20 years.
Jess Ray, a Mettawa resident and former mayor who keeps bees and grows most of the food he and his wife eat on their North Shore acreage, is trying to do something about the problem beyond his own efforts to increase the bee population.
Ray has organized a daylong beekeeping seminar from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 18 on the campus of W.W. Grainger Company on Route 60 in Lake Forest to educate a gathering of between 150 and 200 people about the care of bees.
“One third of every piece of food you put in your mouth has to be pollinated by a bee,” said Ray, who has 15 hives and is a member of the Lake County Bee Association. “We have a colony collapse disorder of the hives. This is a worldwide problem.”
Since 2006, the bee population has declined substantially, according to Ray. He said 50 percent of all hives disappeared. This is not an American phenomena but a worldwide issue.
“There has been an overall decline in the bee population,” said Ray. “It’s been going on for 20 years. There is less pollen and less nectar and that is what they need.”
Disease and pesticides are part of the problem too. Ray said one bee may become infected, return to its hive and spread germs to the rest. That will cause the hive to disappear.
Under the best of circumstances bees have a very short lifespan, except for the queen who can live five years, according to Ray. He said the average lifespan of a honeybee is three to five weeks. The queen, however, is productive.
“A queen lays 1,200 to 1,500 eggs every day,” said Ray.
Keeping bees enables Ray to make honey and products from beeswax like lip gloss. More important, he said, it gets the crops and trees he grows pollinated to produce fruits and vegetables he eats. As long as he can harvest food, he goes to the grocery store for little other than protein.
Though Ray avoids pesticides on his fields, he said that does not prevent his bees from potential infection. He keeps bees but he does not control them. They fly where they wish to find pollen and nectar.
“Bees can travel 2½ miles in any direction,” said Ray.
Attendees at the seminar will hear from five experts:
- Gordon Wardell will talk about honeybee nutrition
- James Amrine will make a presentation about the use of protein and essential oils with honeybees
- Lessons about soil and blossoms will come from Jon Frank
- Dave Hackenberg will offer information about pollen substitutes and additives
- James Gawenis will present information on the honey business
Though the problem has become acute over time, Ray said it can be improved one person at a time.
“We can fix our own backyard,” said Ray. “You can control the environment that is your own and you can take control over.”