(By Susan Salisbury – Palm Beach Post)
Once again, the American honeybee had a tough winter, but more and more people are pitching in to help save the troubled bees by becoming backyard beekeepers.
Commercial beekeepers reported losses of 30 percent of their colonies, similar to results reported during the past five years, according to survey results released Monday. The survey conducted by the Apiary Inspectors of America and the U.S. Department of Agriculture covered October through April.
Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon in which an entire colony of bees abruptly disappears from its hives, appears to still be occurring. It was first reported by Florida beekeeper Dave Hackenberg in 2006, and since then abandoned hives have been reported worldwide.
About one-third of commercial beekeepers who participated in the most recent survey said they lost at least some of their colonies without finding dead bees. Exactly why the bees are disappearing from their hives is not known, although scientists suspect it’s due to a combination of factors such as stress, poor diet, diseases and pests.
Jerry Hayes, assistant bureau chief of apiary inspection for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Gainesville, said there’s an upside.
“Because of CCD, our numbers of residential backyard beekeepers has grown phenomenally, from 700 or 800 to around 2,000 registered backyard beekeepers. They have heard about honeybees. They want to save the world. It is amazing,” Hayes said.
Boynton Beach resident Judy Leger, a retired Siemens project manager, took up the hobby four years ago and has 18 hives on her half-acre property. She enjoys the many flavors and colors of honey they produce.
Leger’s interest was sparked after honeybees set up housekeeping inside her kitchen’s soffit, and she called the Palm Beach County Beekeepers Association to remove them. Aware of the bee’s struggles, she didn’t want them destroyed.
“People are more sensitive to the fact that the honeybees are the good bees and because they are suffering from CCD, people want to save them,” she said.
The Palm Beach County Beekeepers Association, founded in 1974, has grown from fewer than 20 members to more than 130 in the last few years.
Brendhan Horne, a suburban West Palm Beach hobbyist beekeeper who also operates a bee removal business, Bee Barf, has witnessed and helped spur the hobby’s growth in the seven years he has been involved. The honeybee losses have thrust the insects into the limelight.
“People want to try to preserve something they recognize as important, because of bees pollinating the food supply,” said Horne, a past president of the beekeepers association. “With the green movement, here is something they can do. You don’t have to have 2,000 hives; you can have one or two.”
Horne said many homeowner associations prohibit beekeeping, but some other areas allow it.
Through the beekeepers association, Horne organized the third annual Southeast Organic Beekeepers Conference in West Palm Beach in February.
Horne and other organic beekeepers say they have not seen any evidence of CCD, but unlike commercial bees, the backyard bees aren’t hauled around the country to pollinate various crops.
Hayes said if it wasn’t for the fact that commercial beekeepers split their hives’ populations so the bees can establish a new hive, there would be no bees left. The process is expensive, and replacing 30 percent of the nation’s colonies is not considered sustainable over the long term.
Research bees stolen from scientists trying to test effects of pesticides
A $3.3 million research project into colony collapse disorder (CCD), the phenomenon of honeybees mysteriously dying in droves, lost thousands of its test bees to thieves. Researchers at the Center for Neurosciences at Dundee University in Scotland, reported that the British black bees, contained in four hives, were taken on the morning of Sunday, May 8, 2011.
The monetary value of the bees, in the vicinity of $5,000-$6,000, is only part of the reason for the researchers’ dismay at the bee burglary. “This theft will undoubtedly hamper our research,” said lead researcher of the project Dr. Chris Connolly who called the theft “disheartening” for the research team.
The thieves apparently worked quickly and had some knowledge of bee handling. Connolly stated that “The bees were there when I arrived at work on Sunday morning but were absent when I went to work on them 20 minutes later.” Police in the area are pursuing leads about a sighting of two men in a white van seen near the research center around the time of the theft. One of the men may have been wearing a beekeeper’s helmet. Dr. Connolly described the stolen bees as “very unique” and suggested they would be easily identifiable if recovered.
Hmmm, let’s play armchair detective and think about this.
Who would want to steal bees? It could be, as Dr. Connolly speculated, someone wanting the bees as breeding stock for the lucrative bee farming business? Large-scale bee businesses can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars by renting their hives to farmers for use in pollinating crops. With the decline in bee populations due to CCD, bees have become scarcer, resulting in a growing apian black market.
But unlike most bee thefts, this one took place at a university, not a bee farm. Is there another suspect? Remember, these bees were part of a research project investigating colony collapse disorder. Many scientists and environmentalists have speculated that CCD in bees, like white-nose syndrome in bats, afflicts pollinators because they come into close contact with plants sprayed with pesticides.
Who might want to prevent research that could potentially verify the link between the toxic chemicals used on our crops and a mysterious decline in bee populations? Is it outside the realm of possibility that the list of suspects might look something like this: http://npic.orst.edu/ingred/manuf.htm
Ellen Page talks “Vanishing of the Bees” on Bill Maher.
White House Bees
Soooo….. he’s not an organic beekeeper – but he does go through some useful explanations of basic beekeeping tools. Just disregard the part about plastic vs. wax…. bees can make their own foundations!
“These beautiful little beings supply us with one-third of our food, and they are quickly vanishing,” Page said at the premiere. “[The message of the film] is clearly here are imbalances we’ve created with our modern industrialized agriculture system and how we’re hurting the life that gives us life and have lost that sense of connectedness. Hopefully, despite it being frightening, and it should be frightening, there’s an opportunity here to regain that sense of connectedness.”
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