FAIRMOUNT – In 1994, David Burns took up beekeeping as a hobby. Recently, he attained the status of a master beekeeper through the Eastern Apicultural Society of North America.
"Beekeeping was a hobby that went wild into a business in about 10 years," Burns said. "It's grown a lot faster than I thought it would."
Burns said that more people seem to be getting into bees ever since word got out of "colony collapse disorder."
"People heard bees were dying and instead of being afraid of dying bees, they got excited about how they could help and started raising bees," Burns said. "People are going green and getting organic and natural products and moving out in the country, even if it's only for weekends and beekeeping has caught on because of these trends."
Burns decided to go after the master beekeeper certificate because he wanted to continue to teach beekeeping and write about bees, but have more credibility when doing so.
"Having the certification indicates you have acquired a master of the craft and science of beekeeping," said Professor Gene Robinson, himself a master beekeeper and a member of the entomology faculty of the University of Illinois as well as director of the Bee Research Facility in Champaign.
"Candidates must complete a nationally approved curriculum and pass the testing," Robinson said. "This allows them to assist new beekeepers and help communities with problems they might encounter with bees. They are citizen scientists."
Robinson said the education necessary to become certified is highly technical and demanding.
"You have to know a lot, that's for sure," Burns said. "Anything is game on the test from historical to genetic to diseases. We had to know it all and be prepared."
Burns said his desire for the certificate and more study came out of the need to identify hive diseases and how to treat them.
"That jump-started me," he said. "It's so easy to get caught up in your particular area of interest in beekeeping, but I wanted to know what I was talking about in as many areas as possible and be able to give good advice and, honestly, I considered it a feather in my cap, if I could pass the exam."
Burns' business, Long Lane Honey Bee Farms, sells beekeeping supplies and equipment, package bees, queens and manufactures and sells beehives through http://www.honeybeesonline.com.
"I built a hive for myself," Burns said. "Then I decided to build another one and put it on eBay since I knew there were a lot of people getting into the hobby and they would need the same things I needed.
Burns said it went for so much, he did another one and then another and another. They now sell on the website for around $200, depending on specifications.
A major portion of the business is raising queen bees. Burns' nurture hives produce 20 to 30 queens per week from April to September.
"We make more profit from raising queens than from harvesting honey," Burns said. "Most of our honey goes to raise the queens."
Burns also is kept busy as president of the Central Eastern Illinois Beekeepers Association, which is very active with an average of 60 to 80 members.
He offers classes in beekeeping and sells the bee packages that serve as a starts or expansion for other beekeepers. A package usually weighs about three pounds and contains around 10,000 bees plus the queen. The packages are shipped overnight by UPS.
He also has a busy schedule of speaking engagements at various state beekeeping association meetings, produces podcasts, videos and a blog.