By Laura Brown

Triplicate Staff Writer

European diseases are making beekeeping a dying business in Del Norte County. Art McCune is one of the last people in the area who upholds the ancient tradition of collecting honey from insects.

Theres only one other guy I know of in the county who raises bees, McCune said, as he showed off his hives near Smith River.

In recent years McCunes trouble with several European diseases infecting the hives has made his business more costly to run. He has had to medicate the bees and even then is lucky if 75 percent survive.

Last year in our backyard we lost six hives, he said.

Still, McCune perseveres.

One method of medicating for tracheal mites, a common malady among honey bees, is through suffocation. McCune makes a dough out of Crisco and sugar and rolls it out into a thin patty about five to six inches in diameter. He lays the patty over the hives and when the bees eat the mixture, the grease gets around their mouth and mites wont go in their mouths.

Mites have made it twice as expensive, He said. McCune said he spends $20-$30 on each hive to save the bees each year.

Thats why nobody has bees anymore. The mite thing has put a damper on it for a lot of people.

Dressed in white coveralls, and a straw hat McCune lit a wad of newspaper with a match and lowered it into the smoker, then added a piece of cloth. I use anything like cotton or burlap to make smoke out of.

After he dosed himself with the thick gray plumes he began pulling out trays of combs from white boxes with honey bees clinging to them.

He explained that bees in the wild fill up with honey when a forest fire is near and prepare to leave the hive. Because they are filled with honey they are also more docile.

He handles the combs barehanded as the bees buzz unmenacingly around him.

McCunes wife, Mary, told of how she was picking raspberries the other day when she heard a swarm of bees nearby. They make different sounds. You can tell a mad sound.

Bees swarm in large masses and can be found clinging to tree branches.

Theoretically there is not enough room in the hive and they want more room, McCune said of the swarming. Its not always so black and white though and sometimes there is no human explanation for why honey bees do what they do.

McCune relocated a couple of comb trays with queens to an empty hive. Hopefully we changed their mind about swarming.