On Saturday morning, my neighbor, Linda, and I went to meet with an old-time beekeeper south of us. It was easy to spot his place - a rambling and rather ramshackle property, dotted with bee hives. This property is on a country road that once was peopled by farmers. It is now part-time peopled by folks from the Apple, with large, immaculate lawns, perfect paint, and perfect landscaping. This has pretty much infuriated the beekeeper. He has been in beekeeping since the early 60s. During a long and informative visit (he talked to us for an hour and a half), we learned more than in our 5 weeks of beekeeping class.
Back in the earlier days of beekeeping, it was NOT common for beekeepers to lose entire hives. Then, thanks to the introduction of the Varroa destructor mite, transmitted unknowingly by a major pollinator from Florida, the bees of the northeast were decimated. The Beekeeper lost 98 of his original 100 hives. Slowly, over the course of the years, beekeepers have been working on breeding bees that are more resistant to the Varroa mite. But there are even more obstacles that our little bees must overcome in order to thrive. Meadows are disappearing. Lawns are chemically treated, mowed and weeded to within an inch of their lives (as in his neighbors). Large chemical corporations, like Monsanto, develop and sell GMOs and fertilizers and other unnatural treatments that affect our bees. Even a bee that is resilient to the plague of mites, is left weak and ailing by other factors, which lower its resistance. No wonder so many hives don't make it through the winter.
Linda and I won't be getting bees from him this year. He lost 21 of his 50 hives over the winter. He will have to concentrate all year on building back his foundation stock. I won't be setting up the two hives I wanted this year. I'm going to have to restock my one hive. But I've learned tons this year and that knowledge will hopefully make me a better keeper of my bees.
You would think that we would be totally frustrated by all this bad news -- be ready to throw in the towel. We're not. Everyone who raises bees has to stick with it. Using local bees and being diligent about what they eat and where you place them; letting your lawns go to dandelions and clover; re-queening every other year - all these things will help bring back our bees. We need to make sure local, state and federal government does not take away our right to raise bees. Look into your local zoning. Know what local farmers are spraying on their crops. Read labels. Write letters. Get involved.