MULKEYTOWN, Ill. (AP) — Doug Leedle’s fascination for bees began at an early age growing up near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
His father was an avid beekeeper. Doug studied bees for a 4-H project and kept his interest through the years. He had various jobs related to the agricultural field before landing in Southern Illinois to work in a grain processing operation in Benton.
“I’ve been monkeying with bees for over 50 years. They’ve got a brain,” he said with a laugh from his retail outlet, Leedle-Houme Bees outside of Mulkeytown off Illinois 14.
He and his wife, Rose, founded the business about five years ago. They produce honey, supply bees and beekeeping equipment.
“We sell all types of products from startup to setup,” Leedle said. “We can do a complete setup and help mentor people who want to get into beekeeping.”
They also maintain 45 hives on three different properties and have anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 bees.
And they are riding a rising crest of interest in Southern Illinois as more and more people here are becoming beekeepers to satisfy various interests. Foremost of those interests is to preserve an endangered insect.
“We’re all here for one thing — to keep the bees,” Leedle said, noting there are up to 80 reported beekeeping operations south of Interstate 64.
In the last few years, groups have formed in the region that have brought beekeepers together, such as the Southern Illinois Beekeepers Association, of which Doug Leedle is the current president.
It is affiliated with Illinois State Beekeepers Association of Springfield, which has more than 1,300 members statewide and works with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and its Apiary Inspection Program.
Rose Leedle is the treasurer of the state association.
There is also the S.I. All-A-Buzz Apiary Enthusiasts Club where members communicate with one another by Facebook.
Keeping in touch with one another is a mainstay among beekeepers here. They share tips on beekeeping and where bee swarms have been reported. Swarms are especially important as they offer beekeepers opportunities to replenish their hives.
“Our club has a swarm list,” Leedle said.
Leedle belongs to four different beekeeping clubs, including one in Missouri. He and Rose attend the annual Heartland Apicultural Society conference every summer.
The conference offers the latest information on beekeeping, bee research and other information related to the trade.
“You are always learning something at these conferences,” Leedle said. “And another interesting thing about it is you’ll find every walk of life in attendance. Beekeeping holds its appeal with everyone no matter who or what you are.”