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Keeper enchanted by mysteries of his bees

WINONA, Minn. -- Harold Dale knows bees. He knows that all bees take on different roles throughout their lives, beginning as housekeepers tending the hive and ending as field bees gathering pollen. He knows that strong colonies can consist of as ...

Beekeeper Harold Dale
In this April 16, 2013 photo, Beekeeper Harold Dale of Stoddard, Wis., checks on a newly hived bee colony to make sure the bees are settling in to their new hive. Harold Dale knows bees. He knows that all bees take on different roles throughout their lives, beginning as housekeepers tending the hive and ending as field bees gathering pollen. (AP Photo/Winona Daily News, Erik Daily)

WINONA, Minn. -- Harold Dale knows bees.

He knows that all bees take on different roles throughout their lives, beginning as housekeepers tending the hive and ending as field bees gathering pollen.

He knows that strong colonies can consist of as many as 60,000 bees and can weigh as much as 20 pounds.

He knows that if a bee is born closer to the winter season, his or her lifespan will be greater than one that is raised during the peak of summer.

And he knows firsthand that approaching bees with smoke before entering the hive will, for some reason, significantly calm them down.

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Harold, who lives in Stoddard, Wis., has been a fixture at the Winona Farmers Market and other area events for years. A genuine smile spread across his face as he talked about his favorite insect with the Winona Daily News on a recent weekday morning. One simple detail led to another, and his passion carried him away.

"It's fascinating," he said. "I never tire of it."

Harold has always been interested in bees, but he didn't start working with them until his mid-20s. The 83-year-old now devotes all his time to beekeeping, trying his hand at various species and harvesting their honey.

It began in 1957 when he was working at Sears in La Crosse, Wis. He learned about packaged bees for sale and decided, on a whim, to buy some.

"I had this strange urge to try bees," he said.

Harold ordered a few packages, found a suitable plot of land to place them, and learned everything he could about the nature of the black-and-yellow insect. Before long, he was caring for bees year-round, harvesting their honey and monitoring their survival.

"When he got into it, he really got into it," said Nancy Dale, Harold's wife.

Harold continued his career in electronics full time, but his enthusiasm remained with beekeeping. He would come home at the end of the day and check up on the bees' progression, each day every bit as intrigued as he was the first.

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"You know when you try to figure out what this little bug has got on his mind and you can't talk to him and he can't talk to you, you've got to figure out what he's trying to do, and that's not easy to do," he said.

"But it's fun trying."

Nancy watched over the hives while Harold was away, and she would call him when a swarm was nearby. Harold kept dozens of colonies, much like he does today, and derives as much as 100 to 150 pounds of honey per colony.

The amount of honey that bees create depends largely on their surrounding, Harold said. And there are many things that affect the amount today than there were when he started.

Mites, for example, are harmful to bees and can infect and even kill colonies. Modern farming methods have reduced the amount of natural pasture for bees, significantly affecting their ability to gather pollen and nectar.

"We have a lot of things that are against the bees now that weren't," Harold said. "It's harder and the beekeeping is tougher."

The amount of honey generated by Harold's package bees was noticeably more in earlier years, he said. And in some cases, it was as much as double.

Still, he carries on.

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When the honey is ready to be extracted, Harold goes out to harvest eager and excited to sample the new batch.

"Every year there's a small difference and every year I think this is the best yet," he said.

Information from: Winona Daily News, http://www.winonadailynews.com

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

Harold Dale of Stoddard, Wis., holds a honeycomb covered in bees
In this April 16, 2013 photo, Harold Dale of Stoddard, Wis., holds a honeycomb covered in bees from one of his hives. Harold Dale knows bees. He knows that all bees take on different roles throughout their lives, beginning as housekeepers tending the hive and ending as field bees gathering pollen. (AP Photo/Winona Daily News, Erik Daily)

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