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Rain slams Utah farmers, keeps pollinating bees dormant

Published: Friday, May 20 2011 4:13 p.m. MDT

Tyson Roberts checks the wet soil where tomato plants should already have been planted at Roberts Family Farms in Layton, Friday, May 20, 2011. The tomato plants in his greenhouse are suffering from cold weather induced phosphorus deficiency and are small.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

LAYTON — Farmer Tyson Roberts is trying to keep himself busy these days, anxiously staring at the skies, praying the rain clears out and the sun moves in.

Some planting has been delayed, and what is in the ground is easily two to three weeks behind, simply not progressing like it should.

"We can't get in the ground, and what we do have planted runs the risk of rotting," Roberts said. "We're being hit both ways."

Farther south in Payson, Melvin Miller figures he's about six weeks behind on crops and has the same fear that what has been planted will rot.

He's normally planted a special sweet corn by now, but he's had to delay that. The cold weather, too, has him guessing that only one out of 10 of his apricot blossoms will actually bear fruit.

"We're caught between the devil and the deep blue sea."

On top of that, the bees that should be visiting blossoms and pollinating crops for farmers are staying put.

The wet, cold weather keeps them inside the hive. In addition to being a farmers' critical helper, they're not getting the nectar they need to help sustain them through the summer.

"They're hunkered down," said Lee Knight of Knight Family Honey. "They're not able to get out and do the work that the farmers need done for pollination. The farmer needs a good strong hive so when the weather does break, they immediately go out to work."

Anne Stoddard of Delta has a 1,600-hive commercial beekeeping operation and has kept some of her bees in California and Nevada while waiting out the weather.

In the interim, she's feeding the bees corn syrup to keep them going.

"It's too cold and too wet, and it's not been a good year for the bees," she said. "When it has warmed up at all, it has been dry and windy, and they don't like that either."

Mel Taylor, president of the Utah Beekeepers Association, said the state is not a high-production state for honey anyway, despite the uptick in beekeeping hobbyists and urban hives.

He said the weather has presented particular challenges for novice beekeepers who may be unsure of how to nurse a hive through this wet period so the queen will lay eggs — up to 1,500 a day.

"If it is cool and windy, they're like me, they don't like to work in the rain," Taylor said. "With no food coming in, they'll run short (on nourishment) and that costs the beekeeper extra money for feed."

Greg Beyer is a beekeeper who spreads his 61 hives at various farms in northern Utah, including the Roberts Family Farm in Layton.

"They just can't fly in the rain."

Beyer, who has been around bees since he was in Boy Scouts, said beekeeping is already a time-consuming, expensive endeavor, and this year's wet weather has only made it worse.

He's taken a 25-pound bag of sugar and mixed it with five gallons of water so the bees can build their honeycombs and get over the hump of the wet season that keeps them reclusive.

Like Roberts, he is watching the sky, hoping his bees will soon have the chance to do what they've been hired to do.

"Instead of five or six days of rain with one day of sunshine where they can fly, we need it the other way around," Beyer said. "We need five days of sunshine and one day of rain."

Email: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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