Despite cries of colony collapse, master beekeeper asks, “What crisis?”

Story by KELSEY MAE RATHKE

Of all the things to worry about today – Russian election meddling, White House scandals, will the Utah Jazz make it past the first round of the NBA playoffs – dying bees is one you can cross of the list.

In recent years, news headlines warning of a massive bee extinction and the impending demise of the planet have not only been rampant, they have been overstated, local beekeeper Albert Chubak said. He said that the great bee die-off is not a real issue. 

“I read it all the time online and it’s false,” Chubak, the owner of Eco Bee Box and a beekeeper for three decades, said. “If the bees all die out, we as a people are dead in two years.”

Between his relentless grin and his deliberate, halting speech, it is clear Chubak has a passion for bees. His office walls are covered in beehive innovation awards he has received and photos of beekeeping in action.

Chubak says not all bees are having this problem, but rather just honey bees – one of some 20,000 species. He believes other bees and pollinators, including butterflies, ants, flies, wind, rain, birds and bats, could maintain the planet.  

Two bee facts that all adults (and children) should learn, Albert Chubak says:
1. Bees aren’t looking for something to sting. They search for food and protect their hive.
2. Honey is better and easier to digest than crystallized sugars and corn syrups. Honey is antibiotic, antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti fungal and never goes bad.

Chubak began working with honey bees in 1985 in Beaver Creek, in Canada’s Saskatchewan province. He says he was hired for a fall honey harvest at a local apiary. In three weeks of work he was stung only once.

Still, the docile temperament of honey bees stuck with him. But it wasn’t for another 20 years or so that he purchased his first bee boxes. He bought seven hives for $50 only to learn once home the boxes contained no bees.

“I started off my beekeeping career by harvesting honey,” Chubak said. “I believe we got five 5-gallon buckets of honey” — all without a single sting.

Fast forward to the recession, when Chubak worked as a general contractor. As the construction business tanked along with the rest of the economy, Chubak needed a new way to make a living. That’s when he turned to the bees. He developed several ways to remove bees, hornets and wasps from homes and founded Utah Bee Removal.

BeeRemoval

Honey bees prior to being removed from the wall of a home. Image courtesy of Albert Chubak.

From relocating honey bees, Chubak learned that bees maintain their own colonies. Yet, his personal hives were dying every year. On a 13-hour drive to California, he designed a hive that mimicked what he was seeing from colonies in walls.

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A one-box Mini Urban Hive on stand in a backyard.

The Mini Urban Hive is “the only hive in the country that is essentially training wheels for a beekeeper,” Chubak said.

Chubaks hives start at $75 for a one-box hive. A four-box hives costs $200. Chubak also supplies bees for $40 — and guarantees their success, as long as newbie beekeepers follow his formula. 

“There are a lot of beehives out there and every beehive has a regional advantage and a personal preference,” he said.

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Traditional Langstroth style beehives in a Colorado field. Image courtesy of Beth Conrey.

Beth Conrey, owner of Bee Squared Apiaries and Treasurer of the Pollinator Stewardship Council (PSC), a national pollinators advocacy group focused on national forage and pesticide policy, keeps the traditional Langstroth hives, which she likes for honey production.

But beekeeping is not for everyone, Conrey said. Her advice for those who aren’t committed to keeping bees: “Just plant flowers and put up native bee boxes.”

Conrey also advises against spraying pesticides.

“Plant flowers. Don’t spray them,” she said.

“If they still wanted to keep honey bees after a year or two of doing that, then they would need to make the time, find the money and take a class,” she said.

The recommended path to beekeeping is not widely agreed upon and Chubak’s design has its devout keepers.

“The Mini Urban Beehive is the only way to go,” Marlene Jacobsen Schnabel, a Salt Lake City beekeeper, said. “The bees are mellow, easy to inspect and manage.”

Schnabel appreciates the size.  

“The frames are small, lightweight and even my grandchildren are fascinated and able to manipulate the frames,” she added.

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For those who find owning a hive intimidating, there are still ways to “bee” an advocate, Chubak said.

He suggests planting a pollinator garden since many neighborhoods are full of non-flowering shrubs and grass. Bringing honey bees to the forefront of people’s mind by creating and selling bee-themed art and photography, supporting local honey and learning to cook with honey are other ways to support bees.

“Bee-ing a part of a solution is trying to figure out what is natural,” Chubak said.

 

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