BRIGHTON, Ill. — For almost three decades, Gene Reilley has been devoted to gathering and keeping bees.

Fire departments and people throughout the area contact Reilley when swarms of bees show up in their communities or on their property, and he has been extraordinarily busy this year.

"It has really taken off," he said about the number of calls he has gotten this year for dealing with unwanted bees. "I receive around 25 calls a year in a season. Bees normally swarm the first of May, and that is usually over in 30 days or less; occasionally, it is later in the season. This year, everything is early. Even the Japanese beetles are out early."

The key to taking care of a group of swarming bees is controlling the queen, Reilley said.

"You can't be afraid of them," he said. "They can sense when you are afraid. If I get stung, it doesn't bother me, except if it is around my eyes.

"The queen is in a cluster, and where the queen goes, the rest are going. You have to get the queen. The others follow the queen's scent."

Each beehive takes about 60,000 to 80,000 bees to produce a honey crop. The queen lays 2,000 eggs every 21 days, beginning in February.

"The bees live about three to four weeks and fly their wings off," Reilley said. "The queen lives about three years. The bees literally fly their wings off collecting pollen in the morning and nectar in the afternoon."

Reilley said he always has enjoyed beekeeping, and it does keep him busy.

"Every bee has its job. Some collect pollen, some collect nectar and others collect water," he said.

"I sell my honey at Green Earth (Grocer, 433 S. Buchanan St. in Edwardsville) and some other health food stores," Reilley said. "It seems since (TV personality) Dr. Oz produced something on local honey and green tea, the honey business has picked up. There is a lot of interest in it."

Calls to the Brighton beekeeper come day and night.

"All the fire departments call me, and I receive some calls from the Sheriff's Department and even Animal Control in Jersey County," he said. "Bees love warm weather and don't like the rain. Bees know two or three hours before it will storm and go back to the hive. You don't work when it is raining, because they become as mean as they can be. They can't get out and collect nectar or pollen when it rains."

Reilley said he is never afraid when he is working with bees.

"A lot of times, I work with them without anything on," he said. "I don't follow them, though, when it is raining. I try to protect my eyes. Beekeeping is something I do truly love."

Information from: The Telegraph, http://www.thetelegraph.com