LEHI — While honeybees are mysteriously dying across the United States, literally millions were buzzing in a warehouse Saturday morning in Utah County.
More than 300 people lined up to pick up "bee cages," which are bee colonies in a box ?— about twice the size of a shoebox, weighing about 3.5 pounds, with 12,000-15,000 bees in each, including one queen. The bees had just arrived from Chico, Calif., to Knight Family Honey in Lehi.
First-time beekeepers David and Colette Bahr were among the hundreds who came to the farm Saturday. In beekeeping parlance, the Payson couple is called "new-bees."
But they're not really interested in the honey.
"We're mainly doing it because we know there's not a lot of bees," David Bahr said.
The Bahrs are concerned about a phenomenon in recent years of bees not returning to their hives, called colony collapse disorder. Theories abound about the origins of CCD, from cell phone radiation to a pest invasion. Scientists who form the CCD Working Group, based at Pennsylvania State University, believe it's likely a combination of factors that could include chemical residue or contamination of wax or food, pathogens or parasites, poor nutrition and stress in adult bees, and lack of genetic diversity in bees.
The Knights have a farm on which they raise bees, sell honey and sell bees' pollination services to almond, pumpkin and raspberry growers. They also sell bee colonies to hobbyists, which is what brought people to Lehi on Saturday — so many people, in fact, that the Knights didn't have enough bee cages to satisfy demand.
Joseph and Chantel Rhodes of Salem have been keeping bees for three years. The first year they helped a family member who left his bees for out-of-town work. Last summer, the Rhodeses bought two colonies.
"The honey's good," Chantel Rhodes said. "It's constructive for the kids. They kind of have a summer job."
Honeybees are internally programmed to fly outside the hive and get food, which is the pollination that they spread from plant-to-plant. They return home to fill wax combs with honey, eggs and pollen, Chantel Rhodes said.
The job of a beekeeper is to assist bees in expanding the size of the hive. A good beekeeper knows when to add new sections of hive to accommodate baby bees.
"During the peak season you could have 50,000 or 60,000 bees flying around," Joseph Rhodes said.
The bee cages that the Rhodeses picked up on Saturday will need to be transferred to hives, preferably at dusk.
"I like to wear protection on my face," said Lee Knight, the farm's owner, in a video he prepared to show queued-up customers how to begin building hives. "No one likes to get stung."
Perhaps it's news about the declining population of bees that has contributed to the increase of hobbyist beekeepers in the Beehive State. Danielle Downey of the Utah Department of Agriculture & Food has seen beekeeper registration double in the past two years.
"It's just going up," she said. "I think people are interested in producing something for themselves. Part of it is the economy and environmental awareness."