HACKENSACK, Minn. (AP) — Hundreds of amateur beekeepers from across the country recently traveled to a Minnesota city to pick up boxes of bees in what's become a popular annual spring celebration.

Mann Lake Bees in Hackensack distributed bee starter kits to more than 600 beekeepers during Saturday's Bee Day, Minnesota Public Radio reports . Each package contained about 10,000 bees from California and was sold for $140.

Many beekeepers were looking to replace bees that died over the winter or were starting new hives.

Luann Kasper started out with one hive on her small farm near Pierz last year. She hopes to expand to two hives next year.

"I have gardens so I like to have the pollinators on the farm too and I really do think it helped," Kasper said.

While large commercial beekeepers are important to the business, the hobby market is growing, said Jack Thomas, co-founder of Mann Lake.

"I would say our hobby market has probably grown 10-15 fold," he said.

Beginners should take a beekeeping class, such as the one offered at the University of Minnesota, or seek out a mentor who knows the business instead of just learning about the process online, Thomas said.

The growing interest in beekeeping is drawing attention to bees' recent struggle with disease, mites and habitat loss, he said.

Mann Lake Bees has about 1,800 packages of bees in its Hackensack warehouse. The company has factories in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, California and Texas, where they build beehives and other products.

The company also has a sugar refinery to produce sugar water used to feed bees, Thomas said. The company sells pollen substitute cakes and treatments for diseases and pests.

Mann Lake Bees was founded 35 years ago. The company sells bees across the U.S. and in 25 countries.

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