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EYE FOR BEES-NESS VENTURA RESIDENT ABUZZ OVER SELLING HONEY, BEESWAX.

Byline: Amy Raisin Staff Writer

VENTURA - Bill Weinerth was just 12 when he received a beehive from a neighbor - a gift that sparked a passion for the buzzing insects that has stayed with him for nearly a half-century.

Now, after careers as a Lutheran minister and a drug and alcohol counselor, Weinerth is the keeper of tens of thousands of bees. He sells honey and makes beeswax candles with his wife and three grown children, as well as giving hands-on lectures to local high school students.

And he regularly dons his netted headgear to monitor the presence of aggressive Africanized bees, as well as the activities of the more peaceful European bees that produce more than 1,000 gallons of honey each year.

``I used to call them Africanized bees, but I'm starting to call them killer bees after my experience with them,'' Weinerth said recently as he pulled a heavy, honey-logged frame from one of his 20 beehives nestled in a grove of avocado trees.

``But I like being around bees. They're fascinating creatures.''

Weinerth also is trying to teach local high school kids about the merits and techniques of bee keeping but admits the youths are rarely moved beyond curiosity.

Still, Santa Paula High senior Marisela Guillen, who donned the bee suit during a recent career day, said that visits to the bank and an orange- packing plant paled in comparison to spending time with the hives.

``My friend was extremely terrified, but I absolutely loved it,'' said Guillen, 17. ``We went to look for the queen bee, to see if she was doing a good job. And I got to taste the honey right from the beehive.

``I think it's a pretty good hobby, but it's sad that it's not continuing like Bill said. I hope it doesn't get left behind.''

Aside from instructing new generations about bees, Weinerth's passion is artificially inseminating queen bees with selected, non-Africanized drones so he can breed out the killer bees that he's discovered in his hives in recent years.

``In a free flight, a queen will mate with nine to 14 drones and you don't know what hive they've come from,'' Weinerth said. ``That's how the more aggressive genes are introduced into the population.''

Having learned the insemination technique at a convention, Weinerth collects the semen from about 10 drones - the male bee which lacks a stinger - by lightly squeezing their bodies, then he injects the fluid into a queen.

Eric Mussen, an extension apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, said that the delicate art of inseminating queen bees is a step in the right direction in curbing the spread of the aggressive bees but is perhaps just a blip on the radar screen.

``He is selecting the drones, and theoretically he's mating them with the right queens so you don't begin to get that highly defensive behavior,'' Mussen said. ``And after El Nino, blooms were everywhere, so we've noticed an increase in the aggressive bees.''

Killer bee or friendly honey bee, many people see the tiny insect and run.

But students like Guillen said there is a lot to be learned from Weinerth.

``I really enjoy showing the kids the bees,'' said Weinerth, 61. ``It allows me to make contact with the science and agriculture departments and the school.''

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1) Bill Weinerth lifts the frame of a beehive in a Ventura avocado grove to capture the queen into another hive.

(2 -- 3) A keeper of tens of thousands of bees, Bill Weinerth sells honey and makes beeswax candles with his wife and three grown children.

(4) A flame shoots from a smoker Bill Weinerth stokes to pacify bees in a Ventura avocado grove before checking the hives. The Ventura resident is one of few remaining beekeepers.

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 3, 2000
Words:638
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