Archive for Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Local beekeepers avoid widespread losses

July 24, 2013, 6:13 p.m. Updated July 24, 2013, 7:50 p.m.


On a spring day earlier this year, Sharon Dobesh left her office in the plant pathology department at Kansas State University, got into her car and headed for Great Bend. She had just received a phone call from a beekeeper in that area, and what he said had prompted her to make the two-hour drive west to see the situation for herself.

The beekeeper’s colonies were dead.

As the go-to expert for bee-related questions for the greater part of Kansas, Dobesh was accustomed to getting calls from amateurs and tending to problems that were usually rooted in common mistakes. But the call she received that day was from a keeper who had managed bees for more than 30 years.

What Dobesh saw when she arrived was something she hadn’t come across before: The hives were completely empty.

“There were no bees. No nothing,” Dobesh said. “They were basically empty hives with a little bit of honey and pollen left in them. We really don’t know why they disappeared.”

Colony collapse

Dobesh said that this could have been a result of Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines this as a sudden and widespread disappearance of adult honeybees from beehives.

Incidents of disappearing bees began in 2006, when beekeepers nationwide reported losses of 30 to 90 percent of their colonies. Experts formed a committee to address the issue, and a report by the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency was released earlier this summer.

But if CCD were to blame for the missing bees in Great Bend, it would be an anomaly.

Amid the nationwide conversation about the sudden loss of bees, there have been only isolated incidents in Kansas. Though beekeepers near Lawrence and in most of the eastern part of the state are maintaining their colonies, entomologists like Dobesh and Chip Taylor, a professor of insect ecology at Kansas University, said CCD is something that may have widespread and lasting effects.

Taylor said the environment is having a negative effect on all pollinators, which are essential for one-third of all food and beverages made in the U.S., according to the USDA report.

“If we eliminate those insects, then we diminish that vegetation and we’re going to be losing plants,” Taylor said. “There’s a fabric of life out there that’s mediated by pollinators and that’s why we really have to support those populations.”

Area beekeepers remain unaffected

Both Dobesh and Taylor have found that beekeepers in the state are not experiencing the same degree of loss as commercial beekeepers, who move their colonies for honey production and pollination. Kansas doesn’t have commercial beekeepers because wind-swept pollen is sufficient for most large-scale crops produced in the area.

“The beekeepers I’ve talked with in eastern Kansas, they don’t know what anybody is talking about,” Taylor said. “They don’t know of Colony Collapse Disorder because they aren’t experiencing it. They’re not exposing their bees to the same types of conditions.”

The USDA report did not point to one specific source of CCD. Taylor said it is caused by a number of stress-related factors: poor nutrition, disease and too much travel. In addition, he said, the bees are being exposed to pesticides and herbicides, which are sprayed on plants where bees find their pollen or nectar.

These are not problems that local beekeepers are having because most are hobbyists who own a small number of colonies that they are able to treat carefully.

“There are a lot of different characteristics of exposure that are coming together and complicating the issue for these commercial guys that the local beekeepers just don’t experience,” Taylor said. "I don't see a long-term decline in eastern Kansas in either the number of bee keepers or the number of colonies."

Local beekeeper maintains colonies

This is the case for Richard Bean, who owns Blossom Trail Bee Ranch near Baldwin City.

On Wednesday morning, Bean visited a colony that he keeps at a farm just south of Lawrence to introduce a new queen. When he was checking in a few days earlier, he noticed the old queen was missing.

While he was at it, Bean harvested honey that the bees had produced over the course of one month. He lifted combs from the hive, brushed off the bees and stored them in a box to take home.

“This is a nice one, clear honey,” he said while examining one of the combs.

While a commercial beekeeper manages 1,000 colonies or more, Bean keeps just 60. This allows him to visit his colonies regularly and fix problems, like the missing queen, to avoid losses of bees or honey.

Though his bees have suffered in recent summers because of climate, Bean said they are doing fairly well now.

“The large beekeepers are the ones losing,” Bean said. “You have to treat each colony as an individual, and they’re being treated as if they’re in a factory. It’s going to take awhile to figure out what we need to do to stay ahead of it.”

Working toward a solution

Local beekeepers like Bean have a part in providing a solution, Taylor said. By breeding their own bees, they will eventually have a stock that may be able to tolerate parasites and be resistant to diseases.

“They can benefit from tinkering with their bees and getting them to survive without artificial support,” Taylor said. “The more of them that can do that, the beekeeping industry will be better off in the long run.”

In the meantime, entomologists are continuing to hunt for the source of CCD, something Dobesh said could lead to results.

“We’re finding out a lot that we didn’t think were problems previously,” she said. “And hopefully we’re getting a little closer to that answer.”


LeBo 4 years, 10 months ago

Bees are what helps food and flowers grow! Save BEES!

waitjustaminute 4 years, 10 months ago

An important news story and kudo's to the JW for running it.

Now, follow the recycling that leaves Lawrence and see where it goes and what happens to it, not just to the next point, but perhaps three or four jumps.

And, while you're at it, ask local car mechanics what the "flex fuel" is doing to older car engines - what are they seeing? More repairs? More problems? Is the "e-fuel" type of gas really saving anything? Hmmmmm?

Michael LoBurgio 4 years, 10 months ago

This is what your supermarket would look like if all the bees died off

From bee-killing companies pretending to love bees to researchers frantically trying to create a disease-resistant superbee, it’s been kind of a rough week for bees, who have already been having a rough couple of years due to dying off left and right. But why should you care? It’s not like bees are delivering your mail or making you dinner or sewing your clothes, Cinderella-style.

But bees DO pollinate a bunch of stuff that you probably like to eat. Need a visual? Check out these before and after pics from Whole Foods that illustrate the amount of produce that would vanish if all the bees died off:

Michael LoBurgio 4 years, 10 months ago

E.U. bans another bee-killing insecticide

The European Union will limit the use of yet another bee-endangering insecticide, part of its efforts to protect pollinators from agricultural poisons.

The use of fipronil, a nerve agent produced by German company BASF and widely applied by farmers to kill insect pests, will be outlawed on corn and sunflower seeds and fields across Europe

tao7 4 years, 10 months ago

The start of the story says the bees were dead but the colony was actually empty of bees. Are they in fact dead or did they just up and move? Which I guess would'nt make sense.

Tomato 4 years, 10 months ago

One of the theories attached to colony collapse is that some pesticides interfere with the bee's ability to return to the hive, thus explaining the empty hive. But it's just one theory.

Liberty275 4 years, 10 months ago

Sounds like Kansas beekeepers are going around stealing bees from other states... Just kidding.

Thanks beekeepers, our fruit tress do well every year thanks to you. Is it legal to keep bees in Lawrence? It seems like it would be an interesting hobby.

Mark Jakubauskas 4 years, 10 months ago

Many people do. There are a number of urban beekeepers in town.

gatekeeper 4 years, 10 months ago

Just read yesterday that poisons sprayed to control fungus are the main culprit for the bee die off. Mix those along with the insecticides and the bees immune system goes to hell and they are easily infested with parasites that kill them. Our world is screwed. As the bees go, man goes. I don't think mankind will be around for many more generations.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.