CARRIER MILLS -- There's a clearing in the woods where two boxes sit, and Friday, they literally were buzzing with activity.
That's because the boxes -- beehives owned by Becky Taborn -- already had a good start on honey production. Taborn took a few minutes that afternoon to check on the progress of her hives.
"My bees have been carrying pollen for almost two weeks," she said. "It looks like it's an early spring, which means I should have honey a little early."
Taborn is a strong believer in locally-produced foods. She said she would rather produce her own honey than buy it.
"It doesn't really save me any money, but it's something I've done myself. Plus, if you buy honey at the store, it's been pasteurized, which changes the flavor," she said.
So why go to all the effort?
"I love honey," Taborn said. "It's a natural sugar. It's still sugar, so people who are diabetic have to watch how much they take in, but it's made through a natural process."
Plus, she said, beekeeping helps promote declining bee populations.
It's those declining bee populations that worry a longtime former beekeeper.
Edna Diefenbach, also of Carrier Mills, kept bees for years with her late husband, Norman. She said all the while they maintained hives, they saw great -- and alarming -- changes in bee numbers.
"For years, they stayed very constant, but then starting some time in the '90s, problems developed," Diefenbach said. "There were years when mites killed off entire hives. Later, before we got out of it, people had hives where the bees just disappeared. They didn't find dead bees. It was as if the whole colony suddenly vanished."
A variety of factors have been blamed for declining bee populations, including changes in weather patterns, mites that are resistant to pesticides, and other pesticides and herbicides used in agricultural operations, Diefenbach said.
"It could be a little of all of them, too," she said. "But the bottom line is, if the bees die out, it will be devastating to the food chain."
Meanwhile, back at the beehives, Taborn said a local group of beekeepers is looking to increase its numbers. A Saline County beekeepers group meets regularlyat the University of Illinois Home Extension office on U.S. 45 in Harrisburg. She said those who would like more information may call her at (618) 294-1638.