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Local Beekeeper Labors for Sweet Success

Part of a series on local food and suburban farming.

For Mark Leider, beekeeping is a hobby, a business and an environmental mission.

The Libertyville resident says his primary motivation in beekeeping is to help the honeybees survive.

“Without the bees, we don’t have pollination, and that is what gives us most of our fruits and vegetables,” Leider said.

One-third of our diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Our dependence on the honeybee as a pollinator has caused many environmentalists and scientists concern about colony collapse disorder, the mysterious and sudden loss of entire beehives.

Falling in Love With Beekeeping

Leider’s interest in bees started about seven years ago.

“I wasn’t getting a good yield with my fruit and veggies, so I thought I should try raising bees for pollination,” he said.

After spending more than three years researching beekeeping, Leider got his first beehive.

“I fell in love with beekeeping; one hive turned into 100,” he said.

Leider started out with hives in his own Libertyville backyard, but when a neighbor complained, he decided to move the hives. He said the village treats beehives as a nuisance; they aren’t a problem until someone complains.

Leider’s hives are located on 10 different properties in eastern Lake County.

Not Your Typical Hobby

Beekeeping is an expensive and time-consuming hobby, he said.

“You can’t just get bees,” Leider said. He said beekeeping requires a lot of knowledge and supplies. Getting started can cost well over $500 in the first year, he said.

Beehives ordered from a catalog can cost $200 to $300. Leider saves money by building his own hives. Beekeepers also need a smoker to drive the bees out of the hive for honey removal, protective gear and various equipment for extracting and preparing the honey.

“It’s like having a dog; you really don’t understand the cost until you get one,” Leider said.

Not only is beekeeping expensive, it also takes a lot of time. “It’s like having livestock. You’re constantly checking the hives to make sure the queen is alive,” he said. Even during the winter, Leider needs to check up on the hives.

From the caring for bees to the careful, slow preparation of the honey, Leider’s hobby takes a lot of his time. He said he spends about 25 percent of his time on his main business, spa repair, and 75 percent on beekeeping.

“It’s one of the most labor-intensive things I’ve ever done.”

Benefits of Raw Honey

Leider can be found at the selling a number of products from his beehives, including beeswax candles, bee pollen, which has concentrated vitamins, minerals and amino acids, honeycomb, and two types of honey — spring and summer. The spring honey tastes like liquid candy, he said, while the summer honey has a more traditional, fruity honey flavor.

He tells customers about the health benefits of raw honey and warns to beware of store-bought honey. Chinese honey makers are laundering their products through other Asian nations, according to a Time Magazine article. The problem with the Chinese honey is that it may not be honey at all, but a mixture of honey with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. It also may be tainted with lead.

Local, raw honey is said to offer many health benefits.

“Pasteurization destroys all the good things in honey,” he said. Raw honey is a pure sweetener loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, and it also provides energy, Leider said.

Instead of pasteurization, Leider slowly dehydrates the honey to prevent fermentation and increase its shelf life.

Benefits of Local Honey

Local honey is said to reduce the symptoms associated with seasonal allergies. Since the bees ingest the same pollen that causes allergies, the honey is believed to act as an immune booster. Thomas Leo Ogren, author or Allergy-Free Gardening explains how to use raw honey for allergies.

“A lot of people say they have gotten off all their allergy medicines after taking local honey every day,” Leider said. He said local means the honey should come from no farther than 20 to 30 miles from home.

Leider eventually would like to turn beekeeping into his full-time job, because despite the significant time it requires, he still loves it.

“It’s good for the environment and it’s lots of fun,” Leider said.

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