Bee-ing mindful: Students learn how to move honeymakers into new hives

A Bayside farm was audibly abuzz on Saturday afternoon as instructor Garrett Brinton showed students how to transfer a honeybee colony into a hive without upsetting tens of thousands of winged, stinger-packing insects.

As Humboldt State University beekeeping students and local beekeepers watched, Brinton, his hands bare, firmly thumped a box full of bees to move them to the bottom before removing a tin feeder and gently withdrawing the case containing one bee marked with a tiny neon green dot -- the queen.

After making sure the queen was alive and placing her in the wooden hive, Brinton up-ended the box and whacked it against the hive several times to usher the horde of insects into their new home. He made sure the bees were happily situated and added a feeder jar filled with one part sugar, one part syrup, before gently placing a lid on top.

"It's a big day for beekeepers, particularly if they need new hives," Brinton said. "People look forward to today."

Devon Goughnour, who has beehives in Kneeland, is one of those people.

"I'm very happy to get back into the groove of looking at them every week," Goughnour said after purchasing one of the 120 available boxes filled with 10,000 bees.

Goughnour, who has been beekeeping for about a year, said she loves watching bees function.

"I think that they're fascinating the way they come together," she said. "I love what they do for us also, which is pollinate our crops and keep humans fed."

Bees are responsible for pollinating about a third of the food we eat, including fruits, vegetables and nuts, Brinton said.

"We wouldn't necessarily starve without the bees, but we would have a much more boring diet," he said.

While "colony collapse disorder" -- the formal name for pesticide issues and fungal diseases that weaken bees' immune systems -- is a concern for local beekeepers, Joy Thomas, a former president of the Humboldt County Beekeepers Association, said it's not as bad in Humboldt as in other locations.

"Mostly, in my opinion, it happens to commercial beekeepers," Thomas said, adding most people in Humboldt are backyard beekeepers and hobbyists.

The disorder is caused by everything from pesticides and insecticides that come in contact with flowers, to parasites and mites, said local beekeeper and former class instructor Melissa Krein.

"It's kind of like if you were sick and went to the grocery store to get food, but the food you got made you more sick," Krein said.

Recent headlines about colony collapse, though, haven't diminished local beekeepers' fascination with the creatures.

"I just love them," Thomas said. "I think about them all the time. There's always something to learn about them."

Lorna Rodriguez can be reached at 441-0506 or Follow her on Twitter @LornaARodriguez.