COAL VALLEY, Illinois -- There's a buzz at Crandall Farms in Coal Valley as beekeeper Phil Crandall gets the fall harvest underway. He's been at it for 25 or 30 years, and he has seen major changes from the days that his grandfather taught him the business.
His operation lost several hives this year to heavy rains at Nahant March. And that comes as honeybee populations continue to decline around the world.
"No, it's not gotten any better," Crandall said. "And I don't see it getting any better anytime soon."
Surrounding corn and soybean fields are sprayed with pesticides that can harm the bees. They also only flower for a few weeks a year.
"So after two weeks, it might as well be a paved parking lot as far as flowers," said Crandall. "The bees get nothing from it."
Still, this year Crandall says he will be able have a decent harvest. As he pulls frames from the hives, he looks for capped honey and no more than ten percent of empty honeycomb cells. Hold the frame up to the sun, and you can see a rich amber hue.
The frames, heavy with honey, are placed into a tub for a few days, then scraped of beeswax that can later be used for making candles. A spinning machine separates the honey from the frames, and the honey is strained of any remaining wax or bee body parts before being bottled in familiar smiley bears.
But honey isn't the only thing that the bees are good for. Crandall farms has rented them out to area farms to do their thing.
"Well, the farmer gets the pollination, and without the pollination they don't get a crop," Crandall said. "In fact, I had bees out in a blueberry patch on route six, and now the blueberry patch is a corn field," he said.
The bees will roam as far as three miles in search of pollen, which these days seems to be harder and harder to find.