Saturday, July 7, 2012

How Are the Bees Doing?

As Bill, my companion, is a beekeeper, I occasionally receive a question about how the bees are doing or are they producing honey, etc.  Most have heard about the prevalence of Colony Collapse Disorder and the dying of whole bee colonies in the U.S.  It would be a terrible catastrophe, if bees died out.  I read one statistic that humans would die out in 5 years if bees ceased to exist.  The reason for this is that bees are the prime pollinators of plants, including fruits and vegetables. 

Bill has a few hives for his own use and as a hobby.  When his father, Paul, died in 1985, he made the statement, "the bee business will all go to Hell after I die,"  and it has in a sense.  Paul's words foreshadowed this current crisis in the beekeeping world.  According to Bill, his father made this statement as a general statement about the bee business.  In the 1980's, mites, that Bill states look like tiny red crabs, came in on a ship into Lake Ontario.  There are other types of mites that prey on bees, as well as diseases, like American Foul Brood and European Foul Brood.  American Foul Brood or "A" is the worst and generally, beekeepers burn the whole hive if it is found to have "A."  They must disinfect footwear, clothing, hive tools, and other implements if coming into contact with it.  It can spread from bee yard to bee yard if care is not taken, like any disease can spread.

Occasionally something will be released in the media, about possible causes of Colony Collapse Disorder.  One possible cause is the existence of pesticides in the environment which weaken bee colonies.  Bee colonies are highly complex and the answers to their collapse may not be simple ones.  Research is being done at many universities, such as the specialized Dyce Lab at Cornell which studies bees and honey production, looking for solutions to the problem.  There are several agricultural organizations that promote  honey and bees like the Empire State Honey Producers Association, Inc.   Bill and his father attended "bee meetings" throughout the country in the 1960's and 1970's.  At these meetings, innovations and knowledge is shared by beekeepers to assist each other.  In Northern NY, the Sustainable Living Project, a non-profit which has a green philosophy and initiative, has been helping local beekeepers in St. Lawrence County to learn and share knowledge.  A recent workshop by a master beekeeper, Mark B., of Brasher consisted of learning to ignite a smoker and keeping it smoking to calm the bees.  Some of the materials used in a smoker are discarded bailer twine, dried pine needles, and the dry red sumac cones.

The wise beekeeper keeps his or her smoker ignited, or suffer the consequences of angry bees.


  1. One day when Hubby and I have our cabin, we plan on having bees to go with our gardens, goats, chickens, and sheep :) I would love to do it now, but too many neighbors will complain!

  2. I think you would enjoy keeping bees very much. They are steady, hard working insects and such an important part of our environment. I will pray that you and your husband get your wish for your cabin and all the things you look forward to...blessings.