Press-Republican

May 18, 2014

Across the nation, bee die-off still a mystery

DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

MORRISONVILLE — It is now believed multiple factors contribute to widespread honeybee losses in the United States. 

Champlain Valley Beekeepers Association President Dick Crawford said he experienced an 80 percent loss in his 60 hives this winter, which was the consensus of the 75 members of the association. 

Continuing die-off presents a concern, as bees are one of the main ways many crops are pollinated.

Penn State University Senior Extension Associate Maryann Frazier was the guest speaker at the association’s annual spring meeting. She reported excessive pesticide, fungicide and insecticide use as one possible reason for continued widespread losses.

Another factor could be that some bees are mainly used to pollinate only one or two types of crops instead of a larger variety. 

TRAVEL STRESS

The stress of multiple transitions to various parts of the country to aid in crop pollination is another possible factor, Crawford said.

Locally, most apple orchard owners bring in bees from the south, he said. Those same bees are then often brought up to Maine to help with the blueberry crop. 

He said die-off has caused some beekeepers to cut back on travel.

“It’s not worth the loss,” Crawford said.

Bees continue to be affected by a virus spread by mites. That leads to deformed wing virus, which prevents bees from flying, he said.

DESPITE FOOD

Crawford said the weather could also be a factor. This long, cold winter was not ideal, as there were many more days with below zero temperatures in the region this year, especially early in the season in December.

Losses occurred even though he treated the hives and gave the bees plenty of pollen and sugar water prior to sealing them in for winter.

He said the bees that died had plenty of pollen and honey left in their hive boxes when he inspected them this spring. They just couldn’t get to the food because the cold paralyzed them.

It also stayed colder later in the year, as he had frost in his yard on May 8. That cold weather means the bees are getting a later start in foraging and finding fewer plants available when they do so.

Last year, he was moving his bees into the orchard by the first week of May, but this year that will be about two weeks later.

‘DELAY HERBICIDES’

Pollen from sugar maples and other sources is running about six weeks late, so the beekeeper is having to provide the bees with pollen and sugar water until the natural pollen becomes available.

Crawford said dandelions are starting to bloom, but that often leads people to apply herbicide, which harms the bees that seek pollen from that source. He said it would be better if people would wait to apply those chemicals for two weeks after dandelions appear.

Moving forward, it would be great if there was a stretch of 70 degree days with light rain at night to get plants and trees a boost in the spring growing season, he said.

He would also like people to plant more flowers and cut back on pesticide use.

“Let’s hope for a dry summer and a good honey crop in September,” he said.  

Email Dan Heath:dheath@pressrepublican.com