Crawford sees the queen bee of each colony only about once a year, but he can use deductive reasoning to determine whether there is a problem with the queen.
“I can look at the outside of a hive and know,” he said.
If the bees are not bringing in pollen, for example, there is a problem with the queen. Depending on the circumstances, options may include feeding pollen substitutes or combining the colony with another, healthier colony.
The domesticated honeybee is a single species — the European honeybee, Apis mellifera — but there are different breeds, such as Italian, Carnolian and Russian, with their own characteristics of appearance and behavior. They can, of course, interbreed, as has happened with some of Crawford’s colonies.
THREATS TO HONEYBEES
Considerable media attention has been given to the threats facing honeybees; as a beekeeper, Crawford has seen evidence of those threats with his own eyes.
While colonies always take a loss during the winter, losses have often become far more drastic.
“Over the years, I’ve seen a 5 to 10 percent loss go to a 30, 40, even 50 or 60 percent winter loss,” he said.
The problems facing bees include pesticides. In that respect, Crawford said, “Our problem is what they eat in pollen. What they store and feed on in the winter is usually what causes a colony to collapse — pesticides in pollen that they pick up and bring home, whether from dandelions on people’s lawns or farm crops with altered seed.”
McGarry noted that honeybees have survived for millions of years on “real pollen.”
“Now we come along and throw in artificial ingredients,” he said.
Lack of food-source diversity is another problem for honeybees.
Whereas honeybees would naturally gather pollen from a variety of different flowers, today, they may be faced with extensive areas planted with a single crop. Crawford likens this to a human trying to live off of a single type of food. Diversity of pollen sources is like “a multivitamin” for bees, he explained.