WHERE DID ALL THE BEES GO?
COLONY COLLASPE DISORDER MAY DOOM BEE INDUSTRY
That buzz you don’t hear in the garden this spring could be a quiet call to action. While not quite “”Silent Spring”, the number of honey bees in South Carolina has declined sharply in recent years.
Most bees seen around the yard and garden are wild bees. Their decline can most likely be traced to Varroa mites, a recently imported parasite. Seems that generally the health of bee hives in South Carolina is fairly good, but nationally some commercial beekeepers report losses of up to 80—90 percent in recent years, says a Clemson bee expert.
Mike Hood, professor of entomology apiculture at Clemson University, said “We are in pretty good shape in SC for now, but bees have been hard hit in recent years with mites and diseases. The commercial bee producers have had problems in some areas that we are calling colony collapse disorder.”
Colony collapse disorder, a devastating reduction in bee population within a colony, can be so severe that the colony does not survive, according to David Hackenberg, a nationally known beekeeper. “This problem has become so acute that even Hillary Clinton has mentioned it,” said Hackenberg.
How serious is the problem? Up to one third of the world’s food supply is dependent upon bee pollination to produce a successful crop. Here in South Carolina among the crops that require the help of honey bees to make them economically viable are apple, corn, strawberries, melons and squash.
Approximately, 25,000 honey bee colonies in the state are managed by about 2,000 beekeepers, mostly for pollination purposes, according to Clemson University Extension Services.
“Without honey bees and beekeepers U.S. food production would decline and costs would sky rocket,” said Hood.
“This week I will take possession of about 60- five pound packages of bees from south Georgia. The bees from that area are certified disease free. We will use these bees around campus at places like the Cherry Farm Experimental Station. The cost of a package has soared to $60 or more because of demand due to bee loss from various causes,” said Hood.
Clemson College of Agriculture is presently conducting experiments in the areas of colony collapse disorder, several types of parasitic mite infestation and one of Hood’s specialties, the African hive beetle.
Hood has developed a beetle trap that can help keep the small, pesky beetles under control. It involves the use of apple cider vinegar and mineral oil to attract and trap the beetle, which sets-up home in a hive and creates problems by destroying comb and honey.
“Bees face many problems that did not exist 25 years ago. We have just received a USDA grant to study the sub-lethal effects of pesticide on the honey bee,” said Hood. “I feel that most of the problems with bees have been created by the unintentional importation of mites and beetles from other countries, microbes and some new forms of pesticide. All these problems and we still have not dealt with the looming prospect of the Africanized bee coming into South Carolina,” he said.
“The honey bee is facing a dismal future if we don’t get involved,” said Donna Boozer of Greenwood. “My husband and I are trying to teach the younger members of our family about renewable resources and using natural methods of agriculture. Saving the honey bee is just one way of getting involved and changing the outlook for the future.”
But what about the sweetest reason to keep bees—-honey?
Hood is teaching beginning beekeepers the basics with his classes at Clemson.
He said, “We have over 240 new beekeepers enrolled in our short courses and Master Beekeeper program in the state. This is a high water mark for us. This bodes well for the state’s beekeeping industry. A lot of these folks are interested in producing honey. Local honey is not as easy to buy as it used to be. Most honey sold is commercially produced and comes from China and other countries.”
Carol Schooley of Wahalla said, “I enrolled in Dr. Hood’s course to better understand bees and gardening. All of my life I have used Sevin on my garden to control insects and now I have learned that Sevin is instant death to bees.”
Carol’s son Josh 16, said, “I am mostly interested in honey production, but I like the knowledge I have learned about bees.”
According to Angela Frazier, a food safety specialist at NC State University, pesticide residue can occur in honey, but most honey nectars are gathered from sources like blackberries, vetch, poplar and sourwood in the Upstate and are safe. Diseases and parasites in bees are specific to the bee and are not contagious to humans. So eat honey, honey comb and pollen with assurance.
If you have questions about beekeeping you may contact Donna Boozer of Lakeland Beekeepers at email@example.com.
Reporting from Cherry Farm, Clemson—Vince Jackson for the ANDERSON INDEPENDENT-MAIL